This one difference between boys and girls has an effect on learning. Boys need to move, have action, and have their hands (and sometimes feet) busy while they learn. Far too often little boys have been given an ADHD label at a very young age because they can’t sit or stand still in a classroom. Of course they can’t—boys are not made that way.


Dr. Judith Graham, extension human development specialist at the University of Maine, describes temperament as “a set of behavioral characteristics that seem to be inborn and generally persist throughout life.”1 Recognizing and considering temperament gives another clue as to how your child will learn in the future.

Nine traits are considered when researchers determine temperament: activity level, rhythmicity or regularity, approach or withdrawal (adaptability to new situations), adaptability (in general), sensory threshold, quality of mood, intensity of reaction or response, distractibility,  and persistence or attention span. These traits are combined to identify a person’s temperament. Three temperament categories have been named: flexible, active, and cautious.

The flexible child is the one described as easygoing. This child adapts to changing situations and new people easily. Often a flexible child is compliant with the wishes of others. Flexible children are so quiet that sometimes their needs are overlooked.

The active child is as the name implies: the boisterous, energetic, and often temperamental child. These children are often called “fussy” as babies because they don’t have regular sleeping or eating patterns and don’t adjust quickly to new situations. The active child can’t move quickly from one activity to another. Frustration is often expressed through temper tantrums.

As might be expected, the cautious child doesn’t respond well to new situations. But unlike the active child, this little person won’t express frustration with change loudly; rather, these children will withdraw quietly. Once the cautious child has had an opportunity to accept and adjust to a new situation or person, behavior will become more positive and outgoing, like the flexible child.

Dr. Graham also describes “goodness to fit” as part of the temperament theory. This is the match of a child’s temperament with the expectations of the environment. Goodness to fit exists when the expectations of family and others are compatible with the child’s temperament. Some researchers consider this the most important part of temperament.

Don’t confuse the active temperament with a little boy’s need to move and wiggle. One of my sons has a flexible temperament, but he was still very active in his learning. He liked to stand while reading, eating, or even listening to a story. Just the act of standing helped dissipate his energy. 

You might be able to think back to when your preschooler was an infant and recognize behaviors that might indicate your child’s temperament. As you think about what calmed a fussy baby, you might get a hint as to how to help learning take place.

Learning Styles

The concept of learning styles has been in the education world for decades. It has long been recognized that individuals have unique ways of learning. Generally, though, learning styles are divided into three categories: kinesthetic (hands-on), visual, and auditory.

A person who is a kinesthetic learner needs to move, touch, smell, and sometimes even taste to learn. This is how most infants learn. Again, the high energy of a boy should not be confused with this type of learning style. My son who stood to read is a visual learner. These are the children who learn well with manipulatives and other hands-on techniques. (And filling in worksheets isn’t hands-on.)