Today’s blog focuses on how we approach gender ‘norms’ with our children to best support and inspire them throughout their time with us. We want all our children to feel capable, confident and have a healthy sense of self esteem.
No Gendered toys or gender defined role play:
Girls playing with dumper trucks or cars, getting muddy, climbing trees – Yes!
Boys caring for a baby – Absolutely!
Girls being super hero’s – You bet!
Boys being nurses to their cuddly toys – totally great!
In fairness we don’t have many ‘toys’ in our settings, other than items the children might bring in occasionally (which are generally discarded for more exciting things like wheelbarrows or because you need both hands to climb) so can avoid the wash of ‘pink and blue’ plastic that often sends these subliminal messages to children.
As practitioners we remain mindful when children engage us in their imaginative play to not perpetuate gender roles within that play – for example if ‘daddy’ is taking care of the baby saying “shall I look after the baby while you go to work?”
The below (firmly tongue in cheek) infographic can be helpful when deciding what toys are suitable for boys or girls!
How we speak to children and the expectations we have of their behaviour
This is probably the behaviour which takes the most conscious effort. Your words to a child throughout their formative early years become that child’s inner monologue as they grow and develop. You are programming their hardware, influencing their thoughts and feelings about themselves long into the future.
What do you want played back? That boys must be strong and brave, aren’t allowed to express emotions or cry? Maybe that girls need to be careful, not take as many risks, or must ‘be nice’? Boys will engage in rough play but girls prefer creative play?
We are the product of our own programming, layered with societal norms depending on our own social and cultural upbringing. But if we want to optimally support the next generation of children growing up we need to create environments where children are able to express themselves fully and authentically.
We take a holistic approach, emotions across the spectrum and regardless of gender are allowed and worked through together. The individual interests, drives, wants and needs of each child are observed and encouraged; regardless of gender.
Division of labour = everybody takes part in tidy up time!
How we implicitly or explicitly reinforce gender roles requires us to reflect on how we as practitioners interact with children every day, this includes how we talk about their families. When something gets broken do we say ‘don’t worry dad will fix it’ or if something gets dirty ‘don’t worry mummy can wash it’?
How we talk to girls & boys facing challenge also varies:
This study Link found that parents are nearly four times more likely to tell girls than boys to be more careful. The same study cited earlier research which found that parents of both genders used “directives” when teaching their 2- to 4-year-old sons how to climb down a playground pole but offered extensive “explanations” to daughters.
You look so pretty!
Girls can often be praised for their physical appearance, which is entirely out of their control & places their sense of worth purely on physical characteristics (not healthy or helpful). Where as boys might be praised for their strength or activity which they can take personal responsibility and credit for – raising self esteem.
By offering positive reinforcement to children on their effort, their talents, their skills rather than their physical attributes we empower children to find their sense of self and worth in the things they have the ability to control, to develop and improve (if they want!) We want to help raise capable and confident humans who believe in themselves and have the resilience to try, maybe fail and then keep trying, to achieve their goals.
Studies have shown Link this perception of what boys v girls were capable of and associated ‘gender talk’ can start to affect our perceptions of children developmentally, as boys are encouraged/expected to do more activities which strengthen gross motor development whereas girls are encouraged to follow calmer and more fine motor activities, while perceived as being less physically able – possibly contributing to some of the gender attainment gaps observed in school.
Non standard practitioner gender roles – modelling
Stramash prides itself on being an equal opportunities employer – with both male and female practitioners, apprentices and managers involved in caring roles for children. Our male practitioners change nappies or comfort a crying child and our female practitioners build semi permanent structures and know their way round a tool shed (most have their own!) We all do all parts of the job, and it would never occur to any of us not to do that.
Stramash is also a living wage employer, when historically the child care sector (which is predominantly weighted in favour of female workers) has been amongst the lowest paid work available. Which in turn may reflect society’s view of the value in early years education and child care inside and outside the home (but that conversation is for another day!)
So with all that being said, let’s take a moment to highlight one of our fabulous Oban team, a great example of challenging gender stereotypes in sport.
Lets hand over to Laura MacCormick – Oban practitioner & Rugby Player & Captain
“I am currently Captain of Oban Lorne Ladies & we have just finished the 2017/18 season. We have had the most successful season in our teams 15 year history. Not only did we win our league (National League 2) undefeated, we only had 5 try’s scored against us all season. We won the BT National Bowl Final at Murrayfield beating teams in a higher league in the semi final & final. We also won the Queens of 10s tournament at the beginning of the season & the Majorca Beach rugby Plate Final too.
We train 2-3 times a week however in the run up to the final that was increased to 5, it was not easy. As a mum of 3 girls, who all love rugby, my 2 oldest girls play for Oban Mini’s which I also help coach on a Wednesday, rugby is a big part of our family & I am very lucky that they enjoy it as much as me. The girls love going to the rugby club & everyone knows them, it like having an extended family. Rugby is such a team sport & no matter your age, shape, fitness ability there is a position for everyone, it is very inclusive & that’s what I love about it.”