Audit Your Environment
Children learn about what is expected of them because of their gender from all around them. A key step in encouraging gender equal play is auditing the environment that children play in.
Look at your surroundings and do a ‘gender’ audit of your play area.
Audit the play areas
Are certain areas of the room favoured by one gender in particular? If so, talk to the children about why they like or don’t like playing there; they may think that a space is ‘meant for boys’ or ‘meant for girls’. If that’s the case, talk to the children about why everyone can play in any area and with any toy. You could consider blending areas and resources across the playroom to encourage use.
Think about how you organise the space: The presence of a ‘home corner’ and a block area can unconsciously segregate girls and boys. You could decorate the home corner in greens, reds, yellows, blues and oranges instead of pink or pastel colours, which may suggest that the area is for girls only.
Display posters that show adults in non-stereotypical jobs, for example female firefighters, pilots or politicians, male ballet dancers, nurses or ELC practitioners. This will help prompt all children to play in all areas.
Audit toys and books
Check through the resources in your nursery - toys and books. Do they promote particular ways of being girls or boys/men or women? Children’s story books will often feature more male than female characters, or no female characters at all. Aiming for an equal balance will mean all children have a wide range of role models.
Ensure dressing up and role play props offer variety and are not limited to costumes that may be aimed specifically at boys or girls. Consider moving from providing ready-made superhero or princess costumes to providing a variety of general clothes that children can use creatively to dress up.
Have more than one ‘male’ and ‘female’ doll in the dressing up play space or home corner, as well as dolls of different ages and ethnicities.
Review materials and images used with children to make sure they include gender diversity, non-stereotypical images and diverse family structures, such as single or same sex parents.
Have a variety of open-ended resources that are not perceived as gender specific – for example loose parts play, paints and crafts that inspire creativity and excite all children to play with them. Most activities and toys should be ‘gender neutral’.
Did you know?
In the 100 most popular children’s picture books of 2017, male characters are twice as likely to take leading roles and are given far more speaking parts than females.
Among other creatures featured in books that are not human, the gender bias is even more marked. Whenever an author revealed a creature’s sex, it was 73% more likely to be male than female (source).
To learn more, watch Beyond the Blue and Pink Toy Divide – TEDx talk by Elizabeth Sweet.
This is an extract from Gender Equal Play in Early Learning and Childcare - download the full guide here.