Teaching Boys in the Montessori Environment: Neuroscience & Hormonal Learning Differences

November 30, 2015
NAMC montessori teaching boys understanding neuroscience and hormones. group of boys

Thousands of bright, energetic boys are spending the better part of each day unhappy and coming home to report to their parents that they feel ‘stupid’ or that they ‘don’t fit in’.
Beth Hering, “Help boys get more out of elementary education”

Girls do better than boys in school at all ages and subjects
Maggie Fox, NBC News, 4/29/14

A link between fidgety boys and a sputtering economy
David Leonhardt, The Upshot, New York Times, 4/29/14

In this day of standardized, one-size-fits-all education, these findings should amaze and astonish us. Yet, as you read, I know that many of you are nodding your heads in agreement. Boys are, for the majority, unhappy in school. They are falling behind, being expelled, and dropping out at staggering rates.

Teaching Boys in the Montessori Environment: Part One
Understanding Neuroscience and Hormonal Learning Differences

A 2014 report from the Third Way, a US centrist think tank, states that:

  • by kindergarten, girls are more attentive, better behaved, more sensitive, persistent, flexible, and independent than boys. The gap grows in later years.
  • by 8th grade, 48% of girls receive As and Bs, compared to 31% of boys

In their book, The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life, authors Gurian and Stevens contend that boys are:

  • 4.5 times more likely than girls to be expelled in preschool
  • 6–18 months behind girls in reading and writing at all elementary school levels
  • 80% of discipline and behavioral problems in schools
  • 80% of the school-age children on Ritalin
  • get up to 70% of the Ds and Fs on report cards

NAMC montessori teaching boys understanding neuroscience and hormones. confused looking boy

All of this begs us to ask why this is happening and how we can make a difference. Before we tackle these important questions, we must look at the differences in how boys and girls learn. The below chart is taken from modern neuroscience’s study of male and female brains. The differences are striking.

Section of the Brain FunctionMore active in…
Left hemisphere Verbal abilitiesFemale
Right hemisphere Spatial/Mechanical AbilitiesMale
Brain Stem, Cerebellum Physical responses, actionMale
Cerebral Cortex Judgment, impulse control, attention Female
Limbic system Emotion, bonding Female
Parietal lobe Spatial processing, tracking Male
Corpus collosum Cross-talk between hemispheresFemale
Amygdala Aggressive responses Male
Temporal lobes Speaking, listening, reading Female
Basal Ganglia System Sense of calm, well being Female
Hippocampus Memory Female
Gray matter Project focus Male
White matter Multitasking Female
Occipital Lobe Vision Male
(Morhard, 2015. Adapted from Daniel Amen, “A Brain Science Approach,” and Michael Gurian, Boys and Girls Learn Differently)

Male and female hormonal differences also play a key role in how males and females work and live.

More Active in Males


  • Male physical characteristics
  • Aggressiveness
  • Territoriality
  • Competitiveness
  • Sex drive
  • Exploratory behavior

Vasopressin, Cortisol, MIS

  • Risk-taking
  • Roughhousing
  • Large muscle development
(Morhard, 2015)

More Active in Females

Estrogen, Progesterone

  • Female physical characteristics
  • Bonding, attachment
  • Cooperation, collaboration

Oxytocin, Serotonin

  • Reproduction
  • Pair bonding
  • Empathy
  • Maternal behavior
  • Empathy
  • Feeling good
(Morhard, 2015)

In a future blog, we will look at ways we can help boys who are physically active and always on the go to learn, grow, and feel that they belong in school.

Works Cited
DiPrete, Thomas A. and Claudia Buchmann. “The secret behind college completion: girls, boys, and the power of eighth grade grades.” Third Way. April 28, 2014. http://www.thirdway.org/report/the-secret-behind-college-completion-girls-boys-and-the-power-of-eighth-grade-grades
Fox, Maggie. “Girls do better than boys in school at all ages and subjects.” NBC News. April 29, 2014. http://www.nbcnews.com/health/kids-health/girls-do-better-boys-school-all-ages-subjects-study-finds-n92
Gurian, Michael and Kathy Stevens. The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006.
Hering, Beth. “Help boys get more out of elementary education.”
Leonhardt, David. “A link between fidgety boys and a sputtering economy.” The Upshot, New York Times. April 29, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/29/upshot/a-link-between-fidgety-boys-and-a-sputtering-economy.html?_r=0
Morhard, Ruth H. “Boys, boys, boys! Why they're falling behind and what to do about it.” EdWeb.net. Webinar. October 8, 2015. http://home.edweb.net/webinar/boys-boys-boys-why-theyre-falling-behind-and-what-to-do-about-it/

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate
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