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Gender identity in an early years setting -A topic not much spoken about




During the last 2 decades of teaching in the early education settings, I have observed that gender expression is a larger social justice issue and how external social norms influence inside the preschool classroom settings impacting the learners interactions and choices of play and exploration.


Yesterday I watched a movie, "A kid like Jake”.

A movie that spoke about gender identity.


Gender identity is a topic not much spoken about openly.


As an early-years educator, I have always promoted play stations. Dramatic play area being my favourite amongst many.

I strongly believe in free play where the child has freedom to choose what he/she wants to play with the teacher or the caretaker; they are only there to take care and not interfere with the engagement of the child.

Many a times I have observed teachers/caregivers restricting the children to play or take up a role of a different gender.

Why are we so a gender driven society?

Are the children not too young to understand or differentiate?

Why are we so worried to mark territories of blue and pink?

Questions we need to think and reflect.


Most children typically develop the ability to recognize and label stereotypical gender between ages 18 to 24 months. Children categorize their own gender by age 3.

But this may not be the case in always.


According to social cognitive theorists Albert bandura and Walter Mitchel children learn about gender roles in a similar way as they learn other social behaviors by observing the world around them.

Educators and policy makers globally should not be overlooking or under-estimating the importance of early childhood education on the deeply engrained gender norms.


It is important to understand the cognitive and affective formation of gender identity which develops in the early childhood.

The different types of skills and attributes are learned through teacher and child interactions and can be unknowingly stereotypical towards gender roles.

Educators need to have gender awareness to be open to girls and boys choices in learning and development and assist children to explore who they are and make connections with the environment around them. The educators must enable the children to gain confidence when the children are making efforts for peer acceptance and social support.


It is perfectly OK if a boy is playing with dolls or baking an imaginary cake, it is perfectly alright for a little girl to wear a helmet and go and construct in the construction station.

It does not matter if a boy says that he likes the colour pink and loves fairies. It is ok if a girl says, “I do not like wearing frocks with frills, I like wearing a bow tie”.


Training teachers in understanding the need for gender sensitive approach will certainly improve equal participation of all children in a neutral gender engagement which will automatically promote a healthy learning environment.


Policy and practice on incorporating a gender perspective in an early year setting and teacher training for the same needs attention and importance by all the stake holders, school managements and the governance.

Darshana Dabke


Early Years Educator and Teacher Trainer

Currently working as Editorial, Content and Production Head at Chetana Education Limited.

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