Gender in Pre-Schools

Jon Halpern's picture

Pre-school is a crucial time for development and identity. According to Virtual Lab School, "Preschool children are beginning to learn who they are," and "teachers have an important role in this process." 

Most early education systems conform to traditional gender stereotypes, compartmentalizing students into gender norms of the gender that they were assigned. However, what if—at a crucial stage of development—schools counteracted traditional gender norms?

In Sweden, public preschools have done exactly that.

Many of Sweden's government-funded preschools are urging "teachers and principals to embrace their role as social engineers, requiring them to 'counteract traditional gender roles and gender patterns.'" For example, in their pre-schools, "it is normal…for teachers to avoid referring to their students' gender–instead of 'boys and girls,' they say 'friends,' or call children by name."

Additionally, "play is organized to prevent children from sorting themselves by gender." Teachers clear the room of "cars and dolls" and instead "put the boys in charge of the play kitchen" and "made the girls practice shouting 'No!'".

It is "still unclear…how this teaching method affects children," mainly because these initiatives have just begun and long term effects cannot be observed.

To me, it is great that Sweden aims to promote open-mindedness in gender identity. In fact, in 2012, Sweden even introduced a new gender-neutral pronoun, "hen," that the country widely and quickly adopted, which, according to linguists, is unheard of in any other language. I am interested to hear what the Caucus thinks about more gender neutral preschools.

1. How do you think counteracting gender stereotypes will affect pre-school children?

2. Public pre-school education is non-existent in the United States, but do you think it is feasible to implement these initiatives in kindergarten and first-grade? Have gender identity and gender patterns developed to a point in the child's life where this initiative would be ineffective by then?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.