Conversation around this topic is very much at the forefront of people’s minds and has been in the media a lot recently and yet some still struggle to get their heads around the terms and right/wrong things to say.
What is our role in Early Years?
We need to be critically reflective and able to challenge our own beliefs and stereotypes.
Are you guilty of embedding gender stereotypes in children’s play before they can even speak? Do we allow children to play and explore freely without placing limits or implying assumptions based on their gender?
We need to ensure we are not even subconsciously providing children with gender stereotypes and negative bias before they are even aware of their gender.
Language is powerful and children can pick up on it even before they can speak for themselves. Practitioners need to make sure even language used indirectly does not enforce negative stereotypes such as “play gently near those girls”, “stay away from the boys with the football”. This makes them think there is a difference in their ability or strength according to gender. These are not as obvious as “I need a strong boy to help me lift this”, however think of your, everyday language and the impact it has on gender stereotyping within our settings.
Have you experienced families saying their child is gender-neutral and how have you responded?
You should consider all your policies to ensure they reflect your practice and approach. I was grateful to a family who increased my awareness and so I wrote a new policy on ‘Gender’ as well as threading the components into all linked policies, to ensure the team were aware of their role and influence on young minds.
Examples to avoid stereotyping and how to promote equality.
- Evaluate your environment to ensure it is not gendered. Mix-up areas, dolls in construction and tools in the home corner. Consider role play to be neutral or challenge stereotypes.
- Model behaviour yourself
- Read non-traditional stories – not always boys slaying dragons and princesses being rescued.
- Comment on what they can do, not how they look.
- Challenge children’s behaviour and comments – “you run like a girl”. Ask – Why do you feel that way? This will develop their own critical thoughts.
- Resources – loose parts are great as children can access, manipulate and build stories around these items freely, with no predetermined use, idea or stereotype enforced upon them.
- Praise the action/achievement specifically i.e you have focussed for a long time on that, not just ‘good boys and good girls.’
- Give children the freedom to choose what to do and who to play with to be themselves, girls are encouraged to be loud and boys are encouraged to be gentle.
- Widen their experience through more than just photos, exposing them to ‘unexpected job roles’. Male dancers, nurses and full-time fathers. Female mechanics, astronauts and builders. You could inspire a child to change the whole way they view their future.
- Watch your ‘pet’ names – is it obvious you use sweetheart for girls and chaps for boys? Try inclusive names like friends or you are subtly separating them.
- Do you need to use he/she/girl/boy or could your language be more fluid?
It doesn’t mean that you should stop children playing with certain things, but it means you should actively put a stop to gender stereotyping, to ensure children don’t feel they have options. Phrases like boys don’t cry or girls don’t fight are blanket statements which are wrong and harmful.
Gender equality is a key part of all four British Values. Why don’t you evaluate how well you and your setting promote the fundamental values, promoting equality, anti-discrimination and celebrating diversity and discuss its impact?
Not only do you need to promote equality, but you also need to ensure you are not failing to challenge stereotypes. This involves some critical reflection and conscious thinking about gender stereotyping as part of your statutory duty.
- Consider peer-on-peer observations that focus on this area – Assign each member of staff a colleague to discreetly observe for a week. Get them to focus on one specific question. Do they treat boys and girls differently?
- Staff training or staff meeting to discuss points raised in this blog.
- Evaluate your environment, attitudes, language and resources.
We will only have gender equality if we confront any stereotypes that society has imposed upon children. Our role is vital to ensure that even the smallest references to a child’s gender are positive and not linked to negative stereotypes, so children grow up confident and non-judgemental with a full understanding of equality.
Interesting further reading
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