As a parent, you want your child to grow up and be the best without limitations or barriers to their development. Over the years there has been a lot of research into how to set your child up for success and the overarching argument has been that gender discrepancies in opportunities and skills from the early year’s development can have long-term consequences that go beyond social and economic outcomes. At Child’s Play ELC we have endeavoured to change this through a gender-neutral play-based curriculum. This article is a quick guide to gender neutrality, why it’s important and how you can bring it up with your children.
What is Gender Neutrality?
Gender neutrality removes the association of gender from ideas, objects, activities and roles within society. By doing so, it removes gender bias and stigmatisations that can impact a child’s perception and welfare. And it opens doors for greater respect and understanding for all children and families.
Why it is important we practice gender neutrality?
Young children are like sponges, they consume every word, action and inaction that is performed in front of them and slowly they begin to form rules and associations which shape their identity. With each colour, toy, idea and activity that we associate with gender, there is also an association or stigma that can limit your child’s perception of their future opportunities gender-based opportunity. As they reach the end of school in year 12, these perceptions can result in a 12-20 point difference in their study score, in addition to large differences in social skills.
Thankfully, children are pretty malleable and through neuroplasticity, we can reform connections and reshape experiences. With gender-neutral education and play, we can remove these stigmatisations and allow children to flourish unhindered by gender-based expectations.
It’s important that all children have the opportunity to nurture their curiosity and engage in safe risk-taking behaviours. At Child’s Play, we promote gender neutrality through a range of gender-diverse toys (including sensory toys), a gender-neutral and environmentally friendly play space and through inclusive language such as “pal” and “buddy”. We also don’t focus on gender denominations such as “pretty” and “strong” and instead use language like “creative” to assist in the formation of these rules.
Discussing Gender Neutrality with Children
Understanding gender neutrality is just important for children as it is for parents. Approaching it however can be challenging, so educating yourself is the best way to be ahead of the curve. Here are a few key steps when discussing gender neutrality with your child:
1. Education and Consideration
It’s extremely important that first, we educate ourselves about gender neutrality; consider how it works and how it potentially goes against our own ingrained biases. How do you currently create gender bias through your actions and inactions? What can you do to change your behaviours?
What gender means to us is one of the first things we remember about our own upbringing and experience, because gender stereotypes are presented to us very early in life and continue to affect us as we mature. Over time, we take in all of this information and develop rules and assumptions (i.e. pink is for girls, blue is for boys) which in turn shape our opinions and impacts our critical thinking skills and how we socialise.
Educating yourself and determining your own perspective will prepare you for their questions and curiosity later. It will allow you to determine what sort of approach you want to take and how you will discuss topical subjects such as gender.
2. Encourage Questions
Children are naturally curious and have no filter when it comes to discussing topics. As parents, we should nurture their curiosity and encourage questions and open conversation.
As educators and parents, we have a duty to carefully shape their understanding as they continue to discover the fascinating ways of the world. When discussing these topics you don’t have to have all the answers. Sometimes it’s better to ask a question back to understand their thinking process and perhaps ask where the question came from. In turn, this can better prepare your answers.
3. Provide Choice
Right from gender reveals, we have assigned a colour to our babies. This action, as previously mentioned, can place limitations on our children’s success. As they begin to interact with toys, make sure to give them plenty of options. When you give children choices, it enhances their cognitive functions including critical thinking and decision-making.
Research shows that when we provide children with choices that aren’t gendered, we see more children take up STEM-based toys such as Lego and sand castle kits. In gender-neutral play spaces, such as at Child’s Play, we also see children be more active and engage in sports and risk-taking behaviours such as running and jumping which improves their fine motor skills.
By providing these choices and allowing our young children to make decisions, we are creating lifelong learners who will continue to challenge themselves and create new ideas.
Providing a Safe Space at Child’s Play
At Child’s Play, we embody our philosophy of “EVERY CHILD MATTERS”. It shapes our curriculum and the way we educate our children; we have found that with non-gendered uniforms, indoor-outdoor learning environments and encouraging children to partake in risk-taking behaviour we have stimulated children to fulfil their curious nature and become lifelong learners. We always strive for best practices within our centres. If you would like to learn more about gender-neutral play, come in and ask our educators about it.