Boy/Girl…Neutral?

Following a really interesting and informative chat last night on #EYshare (Read the tweets HERE), I’ve been thinking a lot about gender stereotypes and gender issues that need to be considered when working with children.

Firstly, I have to admit, this topic made me feel a little uncomfortable!  It’s an important topic and I’m glad that it was suggested (and so competently led by my wonderful guest hosts), but there was something inside me that made me doubt myself and double check anything that I wrote! However, this awareness of my own feelings has alerted me to the fact that, perhaps I need to do a bit more reading and research about this topic. In today’s world, we can’t bury our heads in the sand and avoid these kinds of issues!

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Image from morguefile.com

Anyway (back to the point), the overall consensus of the chat was that ALL children should have the opportunity to experience ALL activities and ALL toys. In other words; there is no such thing as a boy’s toy or a girl’s toy, there are just toys. This is something that I strongly believe and hope to continue to actively promote in all of my work, whether in pre-school or primary. We need to provide opportunities for children to make their own choices and decisions, without putting any of our own judgements or pre-conceived ideas onto them – for example, we shouldn’t giggle at that wee lad who has decided to wear the pink gown and the high heels. And we should reassure the girl who wants to play racing cars instead of baby dolls. The bottom line is, we need to respect each child as an individual. It is our job to open those doors!

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Image from morguefile.com

 

Another point that came up was that it is vital that we are introducing our children to role models which challenge unhelpful stereotypes. It is clear that film and TV are attempting to bring more women into strong, leading roles, however there are far less examples of caring and gentle male characters. As it was pointed out last night – this is YET ANOTHER reason why we need more men in childcare!

 

 

One of the big issues discussed was challenging parents/ families gender opinions. For example,

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if a parent doesn’t want their girl to be playing football/ their boy to be playing with barbies. I feel that it is important that EY practitioners and teachers attempt to talk to these parents and explain to them the value of these different types of play. However, it is also important that we do not disrespect parents and families. Children often have the firm belief that their parent is RIGHT and we need to be sensitive to this.

Finally, the chat got me thinking about my future practice as a primary teacher. Currently I have a pinterest board full of displays and ideas for ways that I would love to decorate my classroom. On second inspection, I realised that much of what I have pinned, and what I might choose could be seen as rather ‘girly’ and may not be appropriate for my entire class. I think that there is a simple way to address this – I will involve the children! Rather than making all of the decisions myself, I will ask the children’s opinions (where appropriate). Not only will this avoid suiting the environment more to one gender/ preference, it will also give the children a sense of ownership over their classroom.

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What do I think about me?

Self concept is something which impacts everyone from very young children to fully grown adults! Although it continually develops, a healthy self concept is something that must be fostered and nurtured from a young age to ensure the best possible chances for our children.

So what is self concept? Well Rogers (59) believed that it is made up of 3 aspects:

  1. The view you hold of yourself (Self Image)
  2. Your self esteem
  3. What you wish you were like (Your ideal self)

There are also 3 ways in which we develop definitions of ourselves and these are:

  1. Concrete – our physical characteristics and specific roles
  2. Abstract – our qualities, beliefs, feelings, morals
  3. Comparative – relational to others
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Image from Morguefile.com

At a very young age, infants and young children begin to see themselves as unique individuals – separate to others. Parents and professionals can reinforce this by responding to baby as he/she makes eye contact, smiles, babbles. Smiling, talking and singing to baby has so many wonderfully positive effects! As they grow, children will begin to be self conscious of their actions and therefore reinforcement or criticism has a very strong influence on their self concept. You may notice this as a baby starts to look at the adult before pushing a toy off the table or opening a cupboard that they maybe shouldn’t! Try to avoid becoming frustrated and always remain calm while maintaining firm boundaries for the child.

As they reach the ‘terrible twos’ they often start to become independent and want to do things for themselves. Allowing them to experiment and recognising their independence is really important for reinforcing the child’s self worth.

As they continue to grow (3-4)  children begin to understand themselves in new ways; they use concrete descriptions (e.g. I have brown hair and I’m a big sister) and start using comparative terms, while still focusing on their own qualities (e.g. I’m a good runner!) Even at this early age, children are beginning to think about the things that they are good (or not so good) at. They are continually interpreting the reactions of those around them to influence their self esteem and concept of themselves. Providing children with learning experiences designed around exploration and investigation is a really positive way of promoting an – ‘I can do it’ – self concept at this age as there tends not to be a specific end result.

There are also tonnes of fun activities to be done around this stage; for example creating an ‘all about me’ book where children create self portraits, write words about themselves/their friends/ their family, include photos of themselves doing various activities. You could also involve some maths by creating tally charts/ bar graphs etc of various physical features within your classroom (e.g. how many of us have blue, brown, green eyes…?)

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Image from Morguefile.com

At around age 5-6, children are having to deal with the big change of going to school. Some children may be more confident around groups of peers than others but there is a possibility for all children to feel anxious. As they get older they begin to use more comparisons between themselves and others (e.g. My friend Billy is good at maths but I’m not) and they also recognise themselves as part of groups (e.g. I am a girl guide.)

It is important to help children to recognise the things that they do well, but equally important to let them experience failure. This is one of the reasons why I despise the stories of sports days where there are no winners and everyone receives a medal – children need to learn that everyone has their own unique abilities and that it is OK if you don’t win. If they are deprived of these experiences as children, then they will often lack the coping abilities that are needed within the real world.

I also believe that it is important to model a healthy self concept to your children. Of course, it’s not possible to feel wonderful about yourself 100%  of the time, but show off that positive mental attitude. This might even mean admitting to the children when you find something difficult. This particularly applies to me when it comes to maths – but I feel that (when I’m a teacher) if I am honest with my children and admit that even I need to continue to work hard in order to accomplish my goals then this is a positive and helpful experience for everyone.

 

I hope that you can join me on Twitter: Tuesday at 8:30-9:30 where we’ll be discussing this topic some more along with any questions, ideas or related reading from various knowledgeable tweeters from the world of childcare. It’s a very friendly and informal chat, just add the hashtag #childcarehour – see you there!

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Further reading:

Scholastic.com – How children develop self concept

Positive Parents – Building a positive self concept

 

On a slightly related side note – I was pointed to an interesting article this week which debates the idea of telling a child that they are beautiful even if they are not. In my opinion, every child is beautiful in one way or another – but it is an interesting read: TAKE A LOOK  – I’d love to hear your thoughts!