From about the age of two or three, children begin to identify themselves as either boys or girls. And almost as soon as they label themselves by their gender, children start to form clear links to the different activities, toys, behaviour, and even adult occupations that are expected. Girls/women play with dolls and can be nurses; boys/men play with cars and can be fire fighters. The beliefs of children in the early years can be much more strongly stereotyped than the beliefs of most adults.
Children’s stereotyped images of boys and girls are shaped by many factors including cultural beliefs, parenting, schooling, and media influences. And despite the social changes over the last 50 years, it is still the case that fathers and mothers often play traditional roles – the vast majority of childminders, for example, are still women.
As childminders it is our role to try to treat boys and girls as equally as we can and to make sure that they are given equal opportunities to participate in all activities. Children’s attitudes towards gender will mature gradually over time, but challenging stereotypes and especially bullying are important even at the pre-school age.
Try to use gender-neutral labels such as fire fighter or flight attendant. Choose stories with male and female heroes and villains, and stories that present male and female characters in non-stereotypical roles. The idea is not to systematically force dolls onto boys or fire engines onto girls, but to give them the freedom and choice in play to express and develop their own personality and preferences. The bottom line we want to tell the children is that both boys and girls can accomplish great things.
Hold a structured play or activity session to expose boys to ‘pink toys’ and vice versa
One of the most important principles of the EYFS is that we let children learn through play and that they get a chance to choose their own toys. This certainly doesn’t mean that the children should ALWAYS get to choose their own toys. I have looked after plenty of two year old boys who, given the choice, would play with the same cars/trains/airplanes day in day out, mainly because they happen to like playing with cars/trains/airplanes, but also because it has simply never occurred to them to try something different for a change!
The principle of Structured Play Sessions is that for a short stretch of time (20 minutes or so) ALL of the children play with only certain categories of toys. During Structured Play Sessions, you put away all of the other toys and just get out toys from a certain category. For the 20 minute session, everybody, boys and girls, play with ‘transport toys’ or ‘construction toys’ or ‘home corner toys’.
Similarly, you can hold a Structured Play Activity Session during which everybody, boys and girls, joins in with ‘dancing class’, ‘ball games’, ‘dressing up’ etc.
The idea is to give children an opportunity to try activities they may otherwise never have considered before for a short length of time. It is especially important for this diversity topic that boys get a chance to play with traditional ‘girls’ toys’ like the home corner, and girls get a chance to try traditional ‘boy activities’ like football.
When the structured activity sessions are over, the children are free to return to whatever free play and toys they enjoy the most – the girls may run straight back to the dolls house and the boys back to the car garage…. or just maybe ‘dance class’ may continue for a little longer?
Would you like some more information on challenging gender stereotypes in childminding settings?
For more information on teaching diversity awareness to childminded children and for a Diversity Awareness Pack filled with practical activities you can do to promote difficult diversity topics in your setting visit