Welcoming Children Who Are Gender Fluid Into Our Early Childhood Spaces
Children are not born knowing their own gender. They learn to embrace gender stereotypes based on what they see and experience from other children, adults, and the media. Early childhood is such an important time for children to develop their own identities and creating safe spaces for children to express their identities is crucial to allowing them to flourish and grow. This post explores a few simple ways educators and parents can create welcoming spaces for gender fluid children, including building a diverse classroom, using supportive language, and providing a range of books and toys.
The classroom or play space
One easy way to support children’s growing gender identity is to create a welcoming classroom or play space. This article explains the importance of not sorting children into categories by gender. Do not form teams of boys versus girls, separate the “girl’s toys” from the “boy’s toys,” or assign stereotypical gender colors to children (for example, having blue mats be for boys and pink mats are for girls). Encourage children to play with all genders, and mix all of the kinds of toys together. Make your play area or classroom a safe, comforting space where children can use their imagination and play freely without any gender bias.
Ask children what their preferred pronouns are, and use gender-neutral language whenever possible. Instead of saying “boys and girls,” simply say “everyone.” Use “they” as much as possible instead of “he” or “she.” If a child expresses a preference for a certain pronoun, even if it isn’t the one they were assigned at birth, honor their request. Pay attention to how children are playing and interacting with each other. For example, if you hear a little boy say something like, “Pink is for girls!” you can gently say, “Lots of boys like pink, too.”
Toys and books
Be conscientious about selecting a variety of toys that will help all children express their gender identities and are educational. Choose gender-neutral books and toys when possible, but also be sure to make plenty of “boy” and “girl” toys available. The key is to make the toys equally accessible to all children and to encourage them to play with every type of toy. You could even set up a rotation system so that each child gets a chance to play with all the toys, and each child has the opportunity to interact with toys and books they might not think to explore on their own.
This article explains how in the past, parents and educators pushed children towards toys that reflected suitable careers for their gender, such as playing house for girls and playing with fire trucks for boys. The modern workforce does not reflect these gender stereotypes, and it is important to raise children to know that they can be anything they want to be, regardless of gender.
Educators have a responsibility to respect the gender identities of students, and the opportunity to facilitate the exploration of these identities. Creating an inclusive classroom or play space, using supportive language, and providing and encouraging the use of a variety of toys and books all help form a welcoming environment for gender fluid children.