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Top 5 tips to support boys’ learning in the early years

date July 10, 2020Ali McClure


Getting learning right from the start is so important! Those early skills for reading and writing are just a part of this, but it is essential that these are positive experiences for every child.

We know that every child is a unique individual, but boys especially may not yet have all the skills they need for these complex tasks. How can we help them become enthusiastic readers and writers? How can we better understand what each child needs in order to learn best?

On this blog post, early years expert and SEND specialist Ali McClure shares with us 5 tips to support boys’ learning in the early years. Let’s have a look!

Oh! And if you missed Ali’s webinar on this hot topic – you can access the recording from here:


  1. Exercise before expectation

‘If in doubt, get them out!’

This is what I used to say when my boys were young. Young boys are rather like springer spaniels – if we try to keep them constrained they will tear around the place. Young children need at least three hours of exercise a day; boys especially need to exercise their large muscles before they can use their smaller ones. Fine motor skills and concentration take so much effort for young children. These skills develop so much better if we allow – sorry, make that ensure that our boys have ‘exercise before expectation.’


  1. Read to them

In the busy lives of families and even in our settings, how often do we take the time to read to boys? Finding books they love and starting with their passions is a great hook. Don’t always go for storybooks. Picture books you can discuss, rhymes and non- fiction books are important too. Learning about dinosaurs, animals or whatever rings their bells can help to foster a boy’s love of language, a wider vocabulary and a love of learning.

Pleasure, not pressure is the key – reading to boys without the pressure of them having to read or competing to see what ‘colour’ book they are on. Avoid the ‘race to read’ which so many western countries seem to have and make reading a warm, cosy, enjoyable activity every single day.

 boy reading in bed with dad

  1. Breadth of language

Young children today often have a narrower vocabulary than in previous generations. A wide range of experiences both at home and when you are out and about, with good adult interaction broadens their vocabulary. Reading and writing are often areas where boys come to the party a little later than we might anticipate – surely children need to know the words they want to say before they can begin to recognise them?

Reading is complex enough let alone the colossal and complex challenge of writing! Introducing carefully chosen resources into our continuous provision can inspire interest in things children didn’t even know existed. In the UK, Ofsted calls it ‘cultural capital’ – the idea that the greater range of experience a child has the broader the foundations he has on which to make connections, to communicate and to build foundations for future learning.


  1. Join them where they are

When we are busy, or if we are caring for several children, we often expect a boy to break off from what he is doing and come to join us. Adult-led activities can then begin to be seen as a chore. It is a real craft to weave in the skills we want children to learn, at a time they are ready for them and when they are receptive.

Boys are much more open to learning if we join them where they are. Perhaps we have ‘planted’ carefully chosen tools or provocations into their continuous provision. When we see that a child is engaged with this it gives us an opportunity to join them, play alongside them and then maybe raise a rhetorical question:

I wonder how many pennies would make this boat sink?

I wonder what Elmer would need on his trip?

Early Years practitioner and children

  1. Don’t compare

It can happen without us noticing but we often compare boys with others – with their siblings, with their peers, with girls.

Every child is unique, we know that, but for boys, it can really impact them if they constantly feel they are not good enough. Some people call it competition and people often believe that boys like competition, however in truth, boys never enter into competition unless they know there is a strong chance they will win.

Do you often wonder why a boy won’t make a start on something? Why do they avoid ‘the writing table’? Why don’t they pick up a book? Unless they know they have a strong chance of succeeding they feel they might lose face, so it is safer not to make a start.

If you know he can succeed, help him to take the first step, do it alongside him, encourage him as he perseveres and praise him for his efforts. Above all focus on that one boy, what sparks and inspires him and build on the strengths he has.


Ali McClure SEND specialist

About Ali McClure

Ali is an education consultant specialising in early years, behaviour and SEND. She is an experienced SENCO and published author: her book ‘Making it better for boys’ is considered a bible on boy’s behaviour.

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