Quiz time. What are the two most common educational observations about boys? Answer: (1) they like to move, and (2) "they don't read good." Boys are zooming through hallways, jumping on chairs, and running in circles in classrooms the world over, and anyone who's spent time in a kindergarten knows this. Another thing they know is, just as boys seem to embody the "hyperactive" trope, they also reign as the perennial princes of the "poor reader" one too.
But the more boys move, the more boys seem to thrive. So what's going on here? It would seem that when boys are being deprived opportunities to move around during their day, they are being set up to fail more where it (literally) counts, and especially in reading. It shouldn't be surprising then that a new study has found that boys who move more do better at reading than those who spend too much of their time at school "parkin' it." Perhaps a new rhyme for educators should be: "too much time sitting makes a boy feel like quitting."
In the study, researchers analyzed findings of 153 kids aged six to eight using heart rate and movement sensors to track their activity levels and tested them for gains on their reading and math skills. It turned out that the more the boys spent sitting (and the less active they are), the less likely they are to show gains on their reading (and math) abilities. And just so we know how much of a "boy thing" this is, the performance of girls in the study didn't seem to be affected as much by their activity level. Movement or no movement, they more often made the grade, but not by as much when activity was structured into their days. Afterwards, the study confirmed something we've probably known all along, that boys aren't getting the kind of education best suited to their strengths.
"We found that lower levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity, higher levels of sedentary time, and particularly their combination, were related to poorer reading skills in boys," the study says.
Unfortunately, in most schools, phys-ed and recess are more often accounted as optional extras unrelated to "core" subjects like reading and math. Most U.S. schools don't require phys-ed or recess, which hurts both boys and girls. So if anything, these studies show there may be many more natural benefits to recess than it just being regarded as a "break" during the school day. One thing is for sure, too much sedentary learning isn't doing boys much good in particular. The study goes on to show that boys who are forced to spend too much time being sedentary in Grade 1 don't carry their gains over in reading or math to Grade 2 and 3 as well. The researchers aren't sure why the same wasn't true for girls, but their faster cognitive maturation rates may have something to do with it. The reason girls tend to be better readers than boys doesn't seem to have as much to do with motivation, since the prevalence of reading disorders is higher for boys even among those who enjoy reading.
A higher activity level among boys (of course not taking into account ADHD) may simply be untapped energies that boys need to utilize to apply what they have learned and stimulate their brains through the activity. If their activity level could therefore bolster the learning they've absorbed, then it could be used to help them in their performance rather than hurt them, as nature intended. Along with giving boys more humor and non-fiction, modeling behavior, and turning reading into a game or goal, boys may also simply need to be given time and place to run it out and get their neurons firing. Once again we find that the reading gap is not so much a "problem" with boys, but just that their boyish ways are not being catered to in school.