I recently had to challenge some practitioners for reinforcing gender stereotypes. They had wrapped two ‘Pass the Parcel’ presents for their class, one for boys with green and blue paper and one for girls with pink and purple paper. When I raised the issue, one practitioner replied, “We didn’t really think about it very deeply, we just wanted to distinguish between the boy’s parcel and the girl’s one.”
It’s so easy for us to slip into gender stereotypes without even realising it. Equally, it appears to be impossible to buy children’s clothing or toys without choosing from the pink range or the blue range. Boys’ books and magazines are full of superheroes who are strong, resilient and powerful, whereas the girls’ books and magazines tend to be full of fairies and ideas of how to look pretty. Our children encounter these messages every day.
As early years practitioners, we cater for both boys and girls in our settings and we need to ensure that we act as a counter to the gender stereotypes that are so prevalent in society today.
Here are a few ideas to help you to cater for both boys and girls and avoid gender stereotypes:
- Ensure that any talk of colours remains gender neutral, so we don’t talk about ‘pretty pink’ or ‘bold blue’
- Provide toys that will attract children to play with them by tapping into children’s interests e.g. if you have a child interested in dragons, make dragons in your playdough area; provide small world play of castles and print images of dragons which the children can use to create pictures
- Audit your provision in terms of books and resources and ensure that they are not reinforcing stereotypes
- Provide books and resources that deliberately oppose gender stereotypes i.e. a female doctor, a male carer
- Intentionally plan activities that encourage boys and girls to cooperate with each other
- Review your learning environment and adjust if you feel it will allow different children to play in closer proximity
- Use circle times to talk about friendship and who we can be friends with (boys and girls)
- Avoid using gendered language e.g. firefighters rather than firemen
- Address gender-based exclusion when children may say things such as ‘This play house is only for girls…’
- Work hard to engage parents in your setting and address any concerns they may have over gender issues, such as boys dressing up in a princess dress or tiara
- Focus on the unique child as opposed to their gender
Occasionally, you may observe a child who identifies themselves as the opposite gender. It is our responsibility as practitioners to respond appropriately to these children and allow them to play and dress in ways that define who they are and who they want to become. This is about identity and supporting a child who is investigating their identity requires acceptance, understanding and inclusion. J. Osgood, in Reimagining gender and play (2015), suggests that we should allow children to play with gender and ‘negotiate, resist and celebrate gendered ways of being.’ It is our role to empower children to grow as confident, resilient and unique individuals.
So, boys and girls, come out to play!
About the author
Tamsin Grimmer is an experienced early years consultant and trainer and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and committed to improving on their current best. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children.