Thursday, December 2, 2010

Children Are Only as Gender Stereotyped as We Teach Them to Be

More proof that kids are only as messed up about gender as we raise them to be - if we simply let them be themselves without labels, and if everyone else did the same, it might be a very different world.

In fact, an older study (see below) showed the preschool kids, if left to their own devices, will expand gender options, not limit them into stereotypes: "boys and girls very often share play and learning with each other. Furthermore, they show great concern for each other by being helpful and taking responsibility for others' well-being regardless of gender."

Highlighting gender promotes stereotyped views in preschoolers

Posted On: November 16, 2010 - 5:30am

In many preschool classrooms, gender is very noticeable—think of the greeting, "Good morning, boys and girls" or the instruction, "Girls line up on this side, boys on that." A new study has found that when teachers call attention to gender in these simple ways, children are more likely to express stereotyped views of what activities are appropriate for boys and girls, and which gender they prefer to play with.

The study, by researchers at The Pennsylvania State University, is published in the November/December 2010 issue of Child Development.

The researchers evaluated 57 3- to 5-year-olds at two preschools over a two-week period. The two schools were similar along important dimensions, such as class size, teacher-child ratio, and populations served. In one set of classrooms, teachers were asked to avoid making divisions by sex, which was the policy of the preschool. In the other, teachers were asked to use gendered language and divisions (like lining children up by gender and asking boys and girls to post their work on separate bulletin boards), but still avoided making statements comparing boys and girls or fostering competition between them (for example, they were asked to avoid saying, "Who can be quieter: boys or girls?").

At the end of two weeks, the researchers tested the degree to which the children endorsed cultural gender stereotypes (for example, that "only girls" should play with baby dolls) and asked them about their interest in playing with children of their own and the other sex. The children were also observed during play time to see who they played with.

Children in the classrooms in which teachers avoided characterizations by sex showed no change in responses or behaviors over the two weeks. However, children in the other classrooms showed increases in stereotyped attitudes and decreases in their interest in playing with children of the other sex. They also were observed to play less with children of the other sex.

The findings extend earlier research showing that classroom environments that make divisions by gender lead to increased stereotypes among elementary-school-aged children. By highlighting the powerful effect of classroom environments on preschool children's gender-related beliefs and behaviors, the findings have implications for how teachers structure classrooms and interact with children.

This study was posted a year ago - and it suggests that kids are naturally a lot more helpful and compassionate and a lot less likely to engaged in stereotyped behavior.

Preschoolers challenge traditional gender roles

Posted On: November 3, 2009 - 2:50pm

According to research from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, a preschooler's gender determines how he or she is treated and responded to in play and learning activities, and when the children's possibilities become expanded, it is usually a result of the children's and not the teachers' initiative.

The Swedish preschool curriculum requires promotion of gender equality, but researchers at the University of Gothenburg's Department of Education, who performed gender analysis of 114 video sequences of six preschool groups (in total 45 hours of material), conclude that this may be easier said than done.

Different responses to questions

The analysis shows that girls' questions and comments are responded to differently (in a negative sense), that teachers tend to masculinise teaching tools and that masculinity is the norm in children's play and art work. These tendencies are reinforced in the interaction between teachers and children since teachers often have stereotypical ideas of what boys and girls are interested in.

Yet, the analysis also identified that boys and girls very often share play and learning with each other. Furthermore, they show great concern for each other by being helpful and taking responsibility for others' well-being regardless of gender.

Children may challenge existing structures

The analysis also shows how children manage to achieve border crossing at preschool, which causes stereotypical gender structures to change. An example of border crossing is when a LEGO figure that has been gender-defined by a teacher is redefined by a child from 'man' to 'mum'.

As Professor Ingrid Pramling Samuelsson and doctoral student Eva Ärlemalm-Hagsér write in the current issue of Pedagogisk Forskning i Sverige: 'Both children and teachers contribute to the creation and expression of gender structures at preschool.'

'But the study finds that it is the children that reformulate and expand their possibilities. There is not a single example in the material where teachers consciously challenge children to engage in border crossing.'

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