How to make your nursery gender neutral: activities for early years teachers

How can you develop an LGBT+ inclusive curriculum at the early years phase?

What are we saying to our children and young people through our curriculum? What messages are they receiving through what we teach and the activities we provide?

Once you start to notice the discrepancy between your curriculum and the diversity of the real world, you won’t be able to stop! For example, in your nursery, do you set up the table of cars and trucks with the boys in mind?

Our research shows that the roots of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are deeply fixed within perceptions of gender. For example, being a lesbian means falling outside the social expectations of what it means to be female; or having a gay dad can mean a child experiences bullying because their family does not fit the usual gender roles people expect. If all the stories in your book corner show children with a mum and a dad, those who live with a grandparent, foster carer, or LGBT+ parented family might feel that their family is not important. Children put in this position can find themselves unhappy because they or their families don’t fit within expected gender roles.

Here are some gender-neutral activities that nursery school teachers can employ to develop an LGBT+ inclusive curriculum at the early years phase.

Gender-neutral play areas and songs about families

‘Children are so open-minded and ready to listen, they have no set views and they are fluid in their ideas and understanding and readily accept, given the opportunity to do so. To support them, teachers need to be ready with songs, books and examples in their repertoire and jump at any opportunity to challenge preconceived views in young children.’
(Dana: Educate & Celebrate Best Practice nursery teacher)

Songs

Gender neutrality can be explored in your nursery classroom through many key areas. Nursery teacher Dana, at one of our Best Practice Award schools, highlights areas for exploration beginning with songs. A particular favourite is ‘Mummy finger, Daddy finger, where are you? Here I am, how do you do?’ She then asks, ‘Who’s in the family today?’ A child might reply, ‘A mummy and a mummy and a brother and a sister.’ This activity is used within the first few weeks of starting school, allowing children to talk about their own family structures. Dana says, ‘It’s during this time that the tone, ethos and language are set.’

Small-world area

The small-world play areas in Dana’s nursery contain a mixture of non-gender-specific resources such as dinosaurs, cars, Sylvanian family characters, small soft dolls, fairies, gnomes, rocks, wooden pieces, fantasy people and a variety of animals.

Themes

Dana thinks carefully about the use of themes in her classroom. She explains: ‘The classroom is entirely child led. Children lead their own learning with questions, and through their play. Because of this, they are not exposed to things in closed situations. For example, there is no princesses and knights theme. To me, this would mean I am telling the children, you are a princess or a knight – choose.’

Role play

Dana encourages children to choose who they want to play the parts in their stories regardless of gender. She says, ‘A girl once said she didn’t want to play a knight, so we looked at three books that had females as heroes. She then happily played the knight!’

Block play

Provide blocks in abundance throughout your setting, indoors and out, large and small. Dana advises that blocks are the most ‘gender-neutral resource’ on offer. In her classroom, there are no pre-made structures like dolls houses, garages or pirate ships, and children are encouraged to make the structures they need for their own play. Children of all genders make museums, parks and houses and use a variety of small-world resources to relive their own experiences.

Environment

The nursery is filled with pictures of the children’s own and other families. There are books featuring a range of people including children with LGBT+ parents, as well as books about a range of cultures and ways of life. Dana says that in her nursery: ‘Boys do not say, ‘That’s a doll, I can’t play with that’; they say, ‘That’s a mummy at the park with her baby’. Girls do not say, ‘That’s a car, I can’t play with it’; they say, ‘There’s a traffic jam on the way to the museum!’… Children often build houses with families and are heard saying things like, ‘It’s a house with two daddies and two children’ or ‘It’s a house with just a mum and a baby’. This is very usual for us.’

For more activities for early years teachers, check out  How to Transform Your School into an LGBT+ Friendly Place by Dr Elly Barnes MBE and Dr Anna Carlile. 

Follow this link for more LGBT+ inclusive books for use in the classroom. 

Follow us on Facebook @JKPGenderDiversity and Twitter @JKPBooks for more exclusive content from our LGBT books and authors. 

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