Figures just released by the Department of Education reveal the gender gap between boys and girls - 46 per cent of five-year-old boys are not able to 'write a letter to Santa' or read simple sentences.
The figures showed that 70 per cent of girls are reaching the expected standard when it comes to reading and writing. And it certainly highlights one of the issues that prompted the birth of this website - that boys and girls, despite anything that parents may do or not do, enter school with different levels of development, and it is essential that schools recognise this.
However, if your child is five, they are presumably still in reception class - do we really expect children to be able to write a letter at this age?
It seems like a case of running before you can walk. I remember my son's reception teacher saying that he would sit in front of his diary and find it hard to get started on writing what he had done at the weekend - that's because he's four, I said, he is only just learning to write - how can you expect him to be able to write an account of his weekend?
Remember that in other countries - Scandinavia, for instance - children don't start formal education until they're six or seven - and I doubt they are worrying about whether their pre-schoolers are able to write to Santa.
Indeed, some experts believe that pushing children to literacy before they are ready can be damaging, especially for boys. And when compared with countries where they don't begin formal education until later, by the time the children reach secondary school, there is little difference in their achievement levels.
Don't get me wrong, reading and writing is enormously important, but pushing children (and especially boys) before they are ready (and of course some are ready way before five) is just damaging to their self esteem and their view of education.
Okay, so maybe that five-year-old boy can't write a letter, but perhaps he can ride a bike, or sing, or is a great climber, or has an active imagination. We mustn't forget to praise children for achievements other than those that are
If you want some inspiration on how to make learning fun for boys, we've gathered some interesting ideas here - and if your young man loves going on the computer there are some onscreen education ideas here.
If you believed what you read in the papers, all kids sit at home in front of a screen of one sort or the other for pretty much all of the day (apart from going to school). They're all lazy, verging on obese and ready to have heart attacks by the time they hit their majority.
Maybe it's an age and location thing, but that is not true for any of the children I know - and certainly not for my son. We recently took part in some research for Ribena, in which we each wore a pedometer to measure how many steps we take a day. I was working in London that week, covering for a magazine production editor, so my own results were pretty poor – walk to car, walk from car to train, walk five minutes to office, sit down most of the day and then the reverse. My seven-year-old meanwhile, measured an incredible number of steps – even though he was back at school – he never walks if he can run, and rarely sits down for more than a few minutes at a time.
But maybe it is an age thing because a study by the makers of No Added Sugar Ribena Plus of more than 1,500 families across the UK, revealed that a four-year-old spends more than seven hours more playing each week than the average twelve-year-old. Over a third of parents of four-year-olds described them as ‘very active’ and one in five said they were hard to keep up with – possibly because almost half (47 per cent) would never walk if they could run.
In fact, one in five (19 per cent) think their children are more active than they were at that age.
My son has always been on hyperdrive – he walked at eight months and hasn’t stopped since! So, I wondered, is he more active than me at the same age? Well certainly he takes part in more organised activities than I did – he has swimming lessons, plays 3.5 hours of tennis, plays footie twice a week and does a two-hour Taekwondo session. That’s on top of playing footie with his mates at school, PE lessons, playing in the park, going swimming, going to the skate park, playing footie in the garden (are you sensing a theme here?).
I was a very active child but I’m sure I didn’t run around half as much as him – yes, we played out in the garden or out in the street, or in the woods behind our house, and we played games at school (although a lot of the girls’ games involved more sedentary games, and doing handstands and showing our knickers!) We explored the woods, making dens and climbing trees.
We played Tag, and It, and British Bulldog when that was still allowed. One of my favourite games was what we called ‘elastics’ although I later learned that it was called French skipping. I certainly walked more than my son. But then we didn’t have a car, so I didn’t have much choice! We now live in a village, where, unless you are going to the park or out into the fields, you need to drive to get anywhere.
However, I didn’t play tennis, hockey or netball until secondary school, and PE consisted of skipping around the hall, and balancing on ‘beams’ as far as I can remember – no organised games such as netball, dodgeball, hockey, and so on – all things he has already tried. Nor were there opportunities for girls to play football, much to my disgust, coming from a football-mad household with two older brothers.
But as I said, my son is only seven – already there are not enough days in the week for him to indulge all his sporting loves, and as he gets older and schoolwork becomes more demanding, I wonder how he is going to fit it all in. Mind you, he had a great idea the other day – how about if he gave up school, then he’d have more time for his sports clubs! Maybe I’ll run it past his head teacher and see what she thinks!
Do you think your kids are more active than you were at the same age? Are there any activities you remember fondly from your childhood and would love your kids to try? Comment on this blog and you’ll be entered in a draw to win a year’s supply of Ribena and Ribena Plus No Added Sugar. Please comment by midnight on November 30.
Whatever you call them, there comes a time when you have to explain what they’re for – and explain some of the changes that are happening to their bodies.
I think I failed big time in the cool mum stakes when my small son pulled down his pyjama pants and said: 'look mummy my winkie’s gone all fat.' I’m not sure the answer is supposed to be – ‘that’s nice dear!’
So I asked some mum friends what they had said when confronted by their sons' erections for the first time – some spluttered and said, 'I just told him to speak to his dad', another said: 'I just told him it was his body practising for when he's grown up'.
So I thought I’d ask a few experts for their help – several said pretty much the same thing – oh, I just sent them over to my husband. But not everyone has a husband/partner on hand – and even if you have, you can guarantee they won't be there when you need them!
Rosalind Wiseman, author of Ringleaders & Sidekicks: How to help your son cope with classroom politics, bullying, girls and growing up, told me: 'The most important aspect of any discussion with your sons about sex and their sexual development is to be calm, factual, age appropriate, and if you're embarrassed about talking about it admit it but talk to him anyway. And first of all I think that a conversation about erections is best done by fathers.
'But either way I said the following to my boys when they were about eight. "This may not have happened yet, but I wanted you to know that sometimes your penis can get harder for a little while and then it goes back down again. There's nothing to worry about if it happens – it's a natural thing that happens to boys bodies. But if it happens around other people, some boys can feel embarrassed about it so it's never right to tease another boy about it." This doesn't need to be a long conversation with the definition if success being a 30 minute in-depth talk. Just say it and ask if he has any questions. If he doesn't, the let him know he can talk to you about it later.'
Of course what I really wanted to do was get some advice from the horse’s mouth – a bloke – so I asked James Dawson, author of a no-nonsense book for older boys, called aptly enough, Being a Boy: 'Little boys may start experiencing involuntary erections as young as six years old and probably won’t be much older when they realise it feels nice to play with it. However, questions and conversations about this can be awkward – little boys are bound to be curious,' he said.
'The most important thing when having any discussions leading up to puberty is to NEVER fib. Inventing twee stories about storks is only going to confuse children further down the line and potentially leave them open to mockery on the playground. However, that’s not to say parents and carers have to tell the FULL truth.
'In the case of involuntary erections, I see nothing wrong with explaining that it is because they are getting older, and when they are grown up it will be important if they want to be daddies. Assure your son that it will go down by itself and they don’t need to do anything to it. Remember: as early as Year Two, teachers will be explaining to pupils that you need a male and female to create offspring, so this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.
'Explaining to boys AND girls that they shouldn’t be playing with themselves in public should be pretty standard too!'
If you need some help talking to your children about sex, the Family Planning Association runs a free course called Speak Easy, which may help.
They told me: 'As we say on the Speakeasy course, parents who grew up with their own parents not being particularly open about sex and relationships, will remember how much of a confusing time this was. But if you have open discussions from a young age then it becomes more of a natural process, and means they won’t grow up feeling embarrassed or ashamed. And if they are coming home with variations of the truth because their friends ‘know better’, then having the sort of communication/relationship that enables them to ask any questions when means you can clear tricky issues up and say no that’s not right, this is.'
I’d love to know how you dealt with this? Did you pass him straight over to dad, did you manage to be very matter or fact, or did you hurriedly change the subject and hope he wouldn’t mention it again?
I'm a freelance journalist with a son who amazes, mystifies, infuriates, and impresses me on a daily basis. I'm always asking others mums with sons - is this normal, or is it just a boy thing?