Enabling Environments

Gender in early years

  • Gender in early years

Laura England suggests a few starting points for reflective practice…

Educating ourselves

Rightly so, we have seen a huge shift in the sector when it comes to diversity and inclusion in our settings. In this issue, I want to highlight how we can promote gender fluidity in the early years. Unfortunately, I can’t give you a step-by-step guide but I can point you in the direction of some useful resources.

Firstly, I would suggest starting by educating ourselves. We can’t make real change if we don’t fully understand how these issues impact the early years sector, so I would recommend following @aaronbradburyey on Instagram, who shares a wealth of resources and is the chair of LGBTQIA+ Early Years.

Amongst other resources, LGBTQIA+ Early Years created a free magazine packed with articles from a wide range of voices and is a real eye opener. You can download it by visiting lgbtqearlyyears.org

Gender stereotypes and unconscious bias

For many years, we have had an understanding that pink isn’t just for girls and that cars aren’t only for boys; this has been eradicated further as we say goodbye to stereotypical toys and focus more on open-ended environments and creativity. However, it goes much deeper than this and is something I have been reflecting on a lot recently.

Without thinking, I will do things on autopilot depending on a child’s gender. I will sometimes speak in a quieter and softer tone to girls, whereas, with boys I will become louder and more authoritative. Now I am aware of this, I am taking steps to combat it but it’s those small things we do unconsciously that can have a big impact.

Furthermore, I find that when I am settling new children in, I may automatically take girls to the painting or the home corner and boys to the construction play or outdoors.

Although I do this unconsciously, it often means that I’m conforming to gender stereotypes, which is why it is important to continually reflect on this and take steps to combat my biases and ensure every child gets equality.

Language matters

Following on from things we do unconsciously, let’s think about the language we use. Without even realising it, we use certain stereotypical pronouns and descriptors all the time.

Let’s take peg dolls as an example – they are a readily available and cheap resource that we can use to encourage ourselves and children to think more openly about gender. Why do we often see the triangle peg doll as female and the straight peg doll as male? We all come in different shapes and sizes, so why do we conform to this?

My suggestion to you is to get some peg dolls and paint them in different colours with different hairstyles and clothes, and just start referring to one that ‘looks like a man’ in a stereotypical sense as ‘she’/‘her’, or ‘they’, and vice versa.

Most likely the children won’t bat an eyelid but, if they do, it opens up the opportunity to talk together and challenge stereotypes.

Continually reflecting on our approach to and understanding of gender can help us to create an environment where children feel confident to express their gender identities and explore play opportunities without limitations.

Have you read… And Tango Makes Three

And Tango Makes Three is a beautifully illustrated book about two male penguins creating a family together. It’s been a great conversation starter in my setting.

Laura England is preschool leader at Blythe Bridge Day Nursery. Explore more great ideas for your setting and follow Laura on Instagram at @littlemissearlyyears.