Friday, 18 May 2018 03:36

Gender: How neutral is neutral?

At Margaret Ives we provide a safe place that celebrates the diversity of our families and provides children with opportunities for self-exploration, self-discovery and self-confidence. Our educators are trained and knowledgeable, viewing children as competent individuals with a right to an identity, a sense of belonging, choice/opinion, health/nutrition, protection, education, self expression and play. We teach our children about inclusivity by embedding respect, kindness, rights and responsibility into our curriculum and by valuing each child’s voice. While it is important for children to have an understanding of gender, it is most important that they understand difference, acceptance, uniqueness and equity too. Children need to know that their gender does not define them or limit their potential.

 

Children are naturally curious and want to know more about everything, they will stare and ask questions about differences, about hairstyles, about clothing, about boys and girls because they are concepts they see conflicting in their world. Children who have new siblings at home are proud to share that they are a big brother or sister and that their new baby is a boy or girl, this is how they process change and develop their understanding of their world. All children are unique and have different ways of thinking, talking, seeing, crying and dressing, none of which are defined by gender, they are simply unique personal traits or preferences. 

 

At Margaret Ives we shy away from gender terms, preferring to use words like parents, families, siblings, peers and friends.... we don’t shut down children as they use words like Mum, Dad, brother, sister, boy or girl to explore their understanding of gender. We do however role model respectful language, if a child says:

• “Those girls won’t let me have a turn on the bike” we encourage the child to identify the children respectfully by using their names and support concepts of sharing, turn taking and self-regulation with tools like timers and appropriate language.

• “No boys allowed” we explore what the underlying undesirable qualities of ‘boys’ are that make the child feel unsafe or challenged and relate that back to positive peer qualities. All while discussing concepts of acceptance, fairness and using language appropriately to assert their own rights.

 

Instead of “if you are a boy you can go wash your hands” we focus on learning opportunities, for example:

• If your name has the letter ‘P’... a ‘p’ sound (literacy - letter/sound recognition)

• If you are in the sea lion group (belonging)

• If you have a specific pattern on your clothing (mathematics)

• If you have a certain eye/hair/shoe colour (identity/similarities/differences)

• Rhyming words with child names (literacy/identity)

• Identifying something responsible or sustainable that children have done (environment/social)

 

We endeavour to provide a natural play space free from gender stereotypes. There are some natural instincts that we see as children gravitate to what they are interested in. In years gone by we had weeks where bikes were stored away to see if our bike bandits would engage doll play and they did, packing babies into their carriers and loading them on their backs. But the fact of the matter is that we are not here to withhold resources from children, we are here to support children to learn through their interests. If a child is interested in dinosaurs/bikes/dolls we can use that interest to support their social, emotional, physical, cognitive and language development.

 

While some children use prams for doll play, others use them to learn about transportation and mathematical concepts as they try to fit as many different shaped objects inside. Likewise trucks have been filled with rocks, sand, water, feathers, mud, dolls, shoes and patty pans by many of our wonderful learners. Trucks are tipped upside down so their mechanics can be explored and children problem solve when they aren’t moving from A to B successfully. All children are influenced by and curious about the environments that surround them (home/community/childcare/preschool/school). As educators it is our job to support children to follow their interests within the childcare/preschool environment and discover more about themselves and their positive relationships with others.

 

We can’t change the way every child will think or act and we can’t guarantee that every Margaret Ives child won’t experience any bullying or harassment later in life. What we can and are doing is working in partnerships with families to discover what they value and supporting each child to view themselves and their peers in a positive light. We encourage children to celebrate each child’s unique personality, strengths, abilities, passions and beliefs, not as a boy or a girl but as a human being with rights. By celebrating the small achievements a child has each day they gain confidence to tackle bigger challenges.

 

OLLIE LAUDER

MICCC EDUCATIONAL LEADER

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