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Kindergarten to focus on the learning differences between boys and girls

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
April 23, 2008
— Boys will be boys, and girls will be girls.

That was just common sense before teachers realized they were holding girls back from becoming scientists, electricians or CEOs.


But a new, controversial movement in American education says most girls’ brains work differently than most boys’ brains. Conclusion: Schools have gone too far with equality of the sexes, and they should teach boys differently than girls.


Not everyone agrees, but educators such as Janesville preschool director Judy Ronzani and teachers at Janesville’s Marshall Middle School have found the theory compelling enough to give it a try.


Marshall started offering separate boy/girl classes last fall, and Ronzani’s Sonshine Patch Preschool has started using teaching methods that are believed to be boy-friendly and girl-friendly.


Ronzani also is expanding to offer a kindergarten next fall that will use those methods.


Boys and girls started their Sonshine Patch preschool class together one day last week but soon split into all-boy and all-girl classrooms.


Boys were given choices of games to play. One boy was terribly interested in bolting together blocks of wood.


Another liked a game Ronzani created especially for boys. It includes large letters made of black sandpaper with dots and arrows on them. Boys drive toy cars on the letters to learn the movements needed to write the letters. Then, they write the letters out.


Simple, but one boy was fascinated with his ability to spell out his friends’ names with the big letters.


In the girls’ room, girls also were learning about letters, but their letters were decorated with different colored and textured cloths.


Girls like a variety of colors and textures, the theory goes, while boys respond to just a few colors, such as black and silver.


“Some girls may like this more than they like the color and texture letters,” Ronzani said of the sandpaper letters, “and that’s fine.”


Ronzani said she doesn’t keep boys from playing games intended to appeal to girls, either, but she sees distinct differences between the sexes, even at this age.


Boys like a teacher to move while she’s telling a story, because movement tends to draw their attention, while girls don’t mind a teacher who sits at story time, Ronzani said.


Girls are said to hear better than boys, so they might be startled by a loud voice, but boys might not respond unless the voice is quite loud.


Kindergarten through fifth grade as taught in most schools is girl-friendly, but boys develop more slowly at that age, and they respond to different techniques, Ronzani said, so she’s designing her kindergarten with that in mind, to help boys be better prepared when they enter first grade.


“Basically, girls do pretty well with the way kindergarten is presented,” Ronzani said. “They do well in fine-motor type skills, their language skills develop quicker.”


“… It’s the boys who tend to be falling behind.”


Those ideas come mainly from Leonard Sax, a physician and psychologist and author of “Why Gender Matters.”


Sax lectured in Janesville last year at the invitation of Marshall Middle School. Ronzani and her teachers also attended, and they were inspired.


The single-sex classes at Marshall address the growth stage when girls start to fall behind in math and science, Ronzani said, while her own preschool and kindergarten single-sex methods address the stage when girls bound ahead and boys develop more slowly.


Ronzani has spent hours reading Sax’s writings and also the research Sax cites. Those writings and her own experience convinced her Sax is right.


Ronzani has been running Sonshine Patch for 25 years and has taught for even longer.


Sax has his detractors, but his ideas have become so popular around the country that he has turned to promoting them as a full-time job, said Ronzani, who also corresponded with Sax.


Sax says the children would learn better in separate classrooms, but as a practical matter Ronzani will mix boys and girls in her new kindergarten. She wouldn’t have enough students to make two separate kindergarten rooms economically viable.


But as long as teachers are aware, they can teach to the boys’ and girls’ differences, Ronzani said.


For example, boys might prefer to stand while doing art projects, while girls like to sit, and both can be accommodated in one room with a teacher and an aide, Ronzani said.


While some see Sax’s ideas as sexist, Ronzani said, “actually, the most sexist thing you can do is to put kids in a classroom and expect them all to learn the same. They don’t all learn the same.”


In the end, perhaps girls still can become scientists, electricians or CEOs after going through all-girl classes, and perhaps all-boy classes will help boys, too.


Only the future will tell, as innovators such as Ronzani take new ideas and develop them into something that works for them.


New kindergarten is alternative to public school

Judy Ronzani is planning her new kindergarten to offer approaches that she believes are being ignored in the Janesville School District.


Beyond the boy/girl teaching methods, Ronzani will continue to use Love and Logic techniques in her classrooms, and Sonshine Patch Preschool will continue to be a Christian school where kids pray daily, she said.


The Christianity is kept at a child’s level, teaching the beliefs common to all denominations, so doctrinal disputes don’t arise, Ronzani said.


Ronzani will offer both half-day and full-day kindergarten in September, depending on parent preference. The full-day kids will learn Spanish and music during their extended days, so no parents will feel their children are being left behind in regular academics, she said.


Ronzani also is designing a learning environment that she believes is more individualized and personal than in the public schools.


Other local kindergartens have good teachers who provide a good environment, Ronzani said, but she is looking to provide a warmer, cozier school that makes the transition from home easier. She hopes the environment also will help children who are easily distracted and have a hard time focusing.



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