OPINION: Trapped in the Schoolyard

Blake Hubert | guest writer

In the stressful and work-heavy life of a kindergartener, nothing is more precious than playtime a time to take a break from scheduled routine, an opportunity to choose your own fun. However, rarely do see a boy playing house, or a girl playing football – and those who do are mocked and bullied by their peers. The question is: who decided which activities were assigned to which gender?

Gender is salient to children. According to Child Encyclopedia, children begin to form their gender identity by the time they are three years old. Children socialize by encouraging, or discouraging, the behavior of their peers. They notice when a boy is doing something they normally see girls do. They are aware that something is different and they assume it is something to be discouraged.

This causes gender segregation, in which children tend to spend more time with peers of the same gender. When children grow up with differing gender cultures, it makes it more difficult for boys and girls to understand each other’s perspectives in adolescence and adulthood.Although children are aware of their difference in gender, it is not natural to assign a gender to their activities. It is something they are taught – and it can be avoided.

For about a year I worked at an after-school daycare program supervising kids from kindergarten to grade five. It was just as simple as babysitting 25 kids could be: you make sure they make safe choices, teach them to solve problems, and provide a fun environment for them until their parents pick them up. This particular child care program had me undergo extensive training, and one of the main things I was taught to look out for was potentially negative stereotyping between the children. Employees discourage exclusionary behavior and redirect the children in a positive way. Gender segregation is not ignored, but completely supervised and prevented.

The practice is effective in creating a safe and nurturing learning environment in which a child can explore activities that interest them. There are even child care facilities that base their entire program on this phenomenon. Teachers at Nicolaigarden, a preschool in Sweden, avoid the pronouns “him” and “her” completely. Instead, they refer to their 115 young students as “friends.” They avoid labeling objects and activities as masculine or feminine, and teach children that their gender does not define them. While there are critics of the school’s practices, Lotta Edholm, a deputy mayor responsible for schools explained, “The important thing is that children, regardless of their sex, have the same opportunities.”

To address the ways in which gender defines spheres of work and culture in adulthood, education must undertake teaching about gender and its larger implications during childhood. Childhood is the age at which people internalize these societal roles for gender, which is why when they grow into adults, they cannot imagine the world without gender and its accompanying restrictions.It may take some time for the pressure of gender roles to fade from our society, but if we do nothing to discourage gender segregation in early childhood development, we may never reach gender equality in the future.

Blake is a guest writer for The Fourth Wave. He likes DOTA 2 and holding puppies both large and small.

Check out more of this month’s issue here.