Posted January 22, 2012on:
I visited a kindergarten class of about 20 kids on Friday at a school in San Mateo to observe kids during playtime and ask them some questions. I hypothesized that kids at this age (5-6 years old) still play together with the same type of toys and, in general, there are no gender differences perceived. It was observed that while kids might be playing together, there is a difference between playing together and sitting together but playing separately. I observed a distinct difference between girls and boys in terms of how they play together. Both genders were also playing separately from each other, but played with the same toys for the most part. Furthermore, the one gender difference perceived seems to be in terms of color where pinks and purples are considered more girly colors.
Observing the class yielded some interesting results. First of all, the main difference between kids is that boys might sit together while playing but each will do their own thing whereas girls play together and cooperate at building something. Most of the boys in the class were playing with their own thing by themselves, but all the girls were playing in groups of 2-3. Some examples include three girls working together to build a house out of Lego pieces while one boy was building a pirate ship by himself, two girls stacking and counting Magna-Tiles together while one boy was building a marble track alone, and two girls were building a three level parking garage out of wooden building blocks while one boy idly played with some blocks by himself. The only exception was the coloring table where each kid was drawing on their own. Furthermore, the only activity that has a clear gender difference is the pretend area. According to the teacher, only one specific boy will ever play there otherwise it is just girls.
One thing to note was that the girls seemed more detail-oriented while building with Lego pieces. For instance, one of the girls building the house found a piece and was like, “We can use this as the refrigerator later!” They would put aside other pieces to use for the house later including a set of pink staircases. On the other hand, the boy just seemed to be making up his pirate ship as he went along. The girls also used the only magenta pieces in the box as part of the wall for their house. This shows that even at that age, girls prefer colors considered more girly.
One surprising observation was that the coloring table is the most popular activity for both genders so sticks must be drawn to see which kids get to sit at the coloring table during playtime. When asked why they preferred the coloring table over other activities, the general consensus seemed to be that they could bring what they made home with them. The girls seemed more interested in drawing nature scenes or making something for their parents whereas the boys drew video games they played. One interesting thing that happened while I was observing them was one boy was using pink to color some faces and another boy called him out on using that color so he switched markers. Another boy justified using pink on his drawing by saying most ears are pink.
I also brought one of our analogs, the Snap Circuits Flying Saucer kit, and was able to have a couple kids test it out. The teacher first had one of the girls in the class who had made a lemon battery with her dad to try it first, thinking she might have more interest in electronics compared to other kids. I tried to have her look at the pictures on the box and paper and figure out how to put the circuit together, but I ended up needing to do it for her. She didn’t seem particularly excited about it, but liked the end result of the flying saucer. Another girl came over when she saw us working on this. She mentioned that she had done circuits before with her older brother (aged 9). She has something similar to this toy at home that also makes a fan. She was able to take it apart and put it back together since she had some knowledge about how the wires need to be connected to the battery for it to work. She seemed to be more interested in it, or at least wanted to show that she knew how to put it together. Finally, one boy came over and said he had Snap Circuits at home but had a bigger version with more pieces. He had received it for Christmas and only his dad helps him with it.
All this suggests that circuits seem to be bought more for boys than girls. Also, parents need to have some knowledge about electronics in order to teach their kids so that they can develop more intuition on how to build a circuit. The one problem I noticed with this analog was that only one person can really play with Snap Circuits at a time, which would likely lose appeal for girls faster since they can’t easily work together with this toy.
Finally, there was one toy sitting out on a table that seemed pretty cool but apparently doesn’t get used much since it is probably a little hard for them, according to the teacher. The toy involves wood pieces with wooden screws. There were some diagrams included on how to make a crane and helicopter out of these pieces, but perhaps at that age, they need more help deciphering these diagrams.