As a new term starts, Let Toys Be Toys are launching resources for teachers who want to challenge gender stereotypes in the classroom.
Children are keen to fit in and quickly pick up ideas about what’s supposedly ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’, but stereotyped ideas can limit their aspirations and opportunities.
Many toys and books are marketed as being for one sex or the other and children may worry if their favourite toys or hobbies challenge these stereotypical ideas. Parents and carers are often concerned that children who challenge these norms will be teased or bullied.
The Let Toys Be Toys campaign has been approached by parents and teachers highlighting problems in this area. So we’ve worked with teachers to develop resources to help schools tackle these issues in the classroom. Visit the new Let Toys Be Toys schools pages.
Why gender stereotypes in schools matter
Challenging stereotypes is important – children need access to a wide range of activities and playthings for balanced development, particularly in the early years. Believing certain things are ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ limits their opportunities, and can feed into bullying.
As they grow older, narrow ideas of what boys and girls are like can damage children’s chances, as some boys pick up the message that learning and reading is ‘unmasculine’, and girls are less likely to pursue interests in science and technology subjects that they’ve learned are ‘unfeminine’.
Educational consultant Mark Jennett wrote the report for the NUT’s Breaking the Mould project, which looked at how teachers can challenge gender stereotypes in the classroom. He says, “Challenging gender stereotypes is likely to have educational and wider benefits for both boys and girls, helping young people and adults to have respectful relationships, and improving behaviour in our classrooms.
“Research has demonstrated how classroom discussions about gender, and using literature to deconstruct stereotypes, can improve educational engagement and learning.”
Problems teachers face
It can be difficult to challenge assumptions about boys and girls in the classroom, as teachers have told us. Children’s beliefs about boys and girls can be hard to shake.
@LetToysBeToys Funnily enough, it tends to be the other kids who are the ‘gender police’ while teachers try to encourage inclusiveness
— Catherine Hanley (@CathHanley) July 30, 2014
One of the teachers from the Breaking the Mould project commented, “You need to question their views about what it’s OK for girls and boys to like – even when they are saying what you want to hear. There is a danger that they just learn by rote that ‘boys and girls can do anything’ without really realising how much pressure there is on them to behave in certain ways – or how much they take the stereotypes for granted. Time and again, I thought I’d cracked it and then the next day somebody would tell me that boys can’t wear pink or girls don’t like cars.”
How teachers can make a difference
The Let Toys be Toys campaign has developed activities for older primary (Key Stage 2) children as part of a lesson plan. These activities will get children questioning ideas about stereotypes while talking about a topic they love – toys.
As another teacher involved in the ‘ Breaking the Mould project commented, “It’s easy to teach [about gender stereotypes] because it’s interesting, challenging and enlivening. Children – and teachers – love talking about it. The children will always challenge you – and, because some of them haven’t had their views questioned before, it calls on all your resources to help them think about the impact of such ideas on all our lives.”
We’ve developed our lesson plan by testing it out with teachers in different school settings around the UK. One of the tester teachers told us: “There was a definite shift during the lesson from thinking segregated toy shops were okay, to thinking it would be better if they were arranged by type of toy. We did have follow on discussions about the colour pink, and I shared with a small group how I’d felt when Omar bagged all the good colours as ‘boys colours’. My class are Yr3 in a 3 form entry, inner city school, and are all ethnically Pakistani, Bengali or Somali. For most of them, English is a second language.”
Said another, “I think that most schools would pick up on these ideas very readily; they will have an equal opportunities policy and most would be relieved to have something allowing them to show they are really doing something about equality.”
We’ve also pulled together some useful additional resources on gender issues in the classroom, including background reading and other classroom materials and relevant lesson plans.
Visit the new Let Toys Be Toys schools pages and let us know what you think.