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Effect of Gender Stereotypes on Children's Play Choices in Early Years Settings

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Childcare
Wordcount: 5217 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Gender stereotypes are perspectives on the norms of an individual’s characteristic which is based on gender; these can include both negative and positive consequences (Brown. C. S, Et al, 2011). From around the age of two years children tend to decide on the toy they wish to play with based on gender appropriateness (Blakemore. J., Et al, 2012). This study will aim to identify how theoretically gender identity is developed in children and how it affects their development. The study will also explore the policy context which relates to the equality and inclusion for all genders and how practitioners support it, it will identify the main influences on gender based choices reported by parents and look at policy which could minimise inequalities.

This particular topic strikes interest to me as through working in a preschool setting I have often experienced gender based choices such as boy’s playing with trucks and girls playing with princesses’ and boys believing they cannot express emotions due to their gender and I believe it could affect the way in which a child develops.

Tickell (2011) discusses her beliefs on how early intervention has a huge impact on a child's later development (Ruble. D., Et al, 2007). Looking through the perspectives of the children, parents and staff I will be able to gather research based around gender stereotypes and the effects these stereotypes have if intervention is not taken earlier and all play is not made inclusive, from this the study will conclude a more reliable opinion based on research and wider reading to answer three questions based around this topic.

  • Examining theoretically how gender role is developed
  • Identifying policy context relating to equality and inclusion for boys and girls and how practitioners can support it.
  • Examining the main influences on gender which parent report.

The study will gather data by interviewing all staff to receive data based on whether they support gender inclusion throughout their practice. I will be exploring ways in which gender inclusion can be preformed within a setting then using interviews to determine whether this is supported for children.

The Equality Act (2010) supports the inclusion for all genders and sets out policy which practitioners should abide by to ensure that inclusive practice is carried out regardless of gender. Equality and inclusion is vital to ensure a good quality of practice in early year's settings. During Ofsted inspections they will thoroughly check the steps taken by settings to ensure they are carrying out measures and meeting the requirements for equality and inclusion (Osler, A., & Morrison, M, 2000). I will be interviewing staff members to build on this study and to gather research to determine how practitioners support gender equality in a preschool setting.

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From observing and interviewing children it will allow me to develop a clear vision of how gender based choices affect the children's development, it will assist me in understanding whether the choices children make due to gender, delay them in reaching basic milestones set out by the early years framework. I will develop an understanding of how gender role behavior is formed in early years by asking children several questions during play based on choices made and recording my findings, this will allow me to view how gender role behavior is formed.

Interviewing parents will allow for data to be received on whether parents feel there are key influences on why children make gender based choices and what parents feel these influences may be. It will allow for the study to indentify if there are main influences and how the influences can be minimised to allow children to take a more holistic approach to play rather than making choices based on stereotypes and influences.

Literature review

Gender is the way in which an individual identifies themselves based on social and cultural norms and construction. Gender however is not agreed on as one definition as many different social societies have different views on what gender is (Maccob. E, 1988). Sex is the biological construction of the sexual organs (Berenbaum. S., Et al, 2011). It is of great importance that the two are identified differently and it is acknowledged that the two are not the same. Many factors play a role in how individuals develop a gender identity with the main one been the environment. Children are often exposed to many factors in their home environment which could have a role of on their perspective of gender this could lead to them making choices based on the stereotypes they have learned their perspectives from (Adler. P., Et al, 1992). From around the age of two years children will begin to develop concepts and ideologies of gender and often around this age will begin to know if they are a boy or a girl (Holmes, M., 2007). Often once a child develops these concepts they will begin to make choices based on this during play (Spinner. L., Et al, 2018).

Kohlberg (1966) states there are three stages to the gender development the first been gender identity where the child begins to develop the concept that they are male or female and not just a person, this happens at around the age of 2 years old. The second been gender stability; This occurs at around the age of 4, this is when the child begins to understand that there gender is permanent and they will still be male/ female when they are older. The final stage is gender constancy this occurs at around 5 years, this is where the child begins to understand that changes in appearance do not determine whether they are male or female for example a girl with short hair is still a female (Ruble. D., Et al, 2007).

Through looking at different literature it will magnify how important minimising gender stereotypes in early years is to help children develop in a more holistic way.

 The gender identity in early childhood

Many factors can have a role of the development of gender identity for children one of which been the social learning from peers, parents and guardians and in education. The people close to a child are their biggest influences and role models; from this it is clearly shown that the socialisation of people close to the child such as their parent and guardians is crucial in a child's development (Gruber. T., Et al, 2017). Albert Bandura (1977) believes that children learn based on their influences, from them they learn their behaviours and attitudes this includes gender role behaviours. This would suggest that children learn their behaviours based on their same sex parents for example if a boy saw their father/ male role model fixing a car the boy would then take a behavioural interest in cars and if a girl saw her mother/ female role model washing up or doing household duties then she would also take an interest in these things. This is because it is believed that children often follow what is modelled to be appropriate based on who they believe they are and learned behaviours. It is suggested that parents and guardians also encourage this in children for example expecting strength from boys and expecting girls to be caring and empathetic, this is often carried out by influences without them even noticing and without them knowing that it can have a negative effect on the development of a child (Bandura, A, n.d.).

Early years practitioners also are great influencers for young children and often key role models. It is shown that professionals often reinforce gender stereotypes in a setting environment by carrying out unintentional verbal communication such as addressing girls as 'sweetie' and addressing boys as 'strong/big'. However this is not always the case and it is becoming decreasingly common for professionals to use language based on gender stereotypes and now inclusion and equality is growing throughout early year's settings (Pugh. G., & Duffy. B., 2014).

Clearly it is becoming apparent that there are many different ways in which children are taught gender roles which are lead by gender stereotypes. It is often said that children mould to the expectation of gender and gender stereotypes therefore this is why gender stereotypes are accepted by society (Pascall. G., 2012).

Gender schema theory would predict that gender identity gives children the skill to label themselves; therefore it allows them to develop using tools and resources which are linked to genders to perform activities which are also structure around a specific gender. Due to the gender schema theory been based on social perspectives this could be argued by biological theories which would state that children have no conception of gender until the age of five years and only identify themselves as people (Bussey & Bandura, 1999).

The biology argument still remains however and it suggests that and influence of gender development can also be the hormones in females and males. Evidence suggests that biology can cause gender roles as in females a hormone known as oestrogen is produced and this has an effect of a more calming nature rather than male's hormones known as testosterone s produced and has an effect of a more aggressive nature (Pardue &Board., 2001). Results of this are mainly shown in animals as this is where the majority of testing has taken place however some studies show that it may affect children's ideologies of gender based on the sex hormones, as well as these studies others show that there is no connection (Berenbaum. S., Et al, 2011).

The effects gender has on children’s development

It is believed that gender roles have an impact on the social and cognitive development of a child. Research suggests that if a child goes through the self-labelling process it can impact on later choices made about a career (Labelling theory, 2015).

Often barriers can evolve when gender role traits are developed, barriers can involve individuals understanding of what men and women can and cannot do. These often are created due to the constant reinforcement of traits due to children following gender stereotypes such as gender based toy selection (Langlois, J & Downs, A., 1980). This in turn can lead to a child growing with low self-esteem. For example if a child does not grow to follow the expectations then they may be told they are not good enough as they are not meeting the social idea's of what they can do, this could lead to issues when believing in themselves (Maccoby, E. E., 1988). Not only can gender affect a child's development it can also affect their future roles such as job roles. As girls are often expected to be more caring that boys they are likely to be encouraged to play with dolls and activities such as role play, cooking and cleaning, a consequence of this is that as a child grows they will be expected to fulfil these duties in a household by caring for children and completing the housework. When applying for a job it is likely that a woman may not get chosen for the role regardless of her abilities due to the fact that she is expected to fulfil more duties at home and this may affect her role in a job. A male may be more likely to be selected for the job due to the stereotype of males been more competitive and active there for they would be seen as more hands on in the job role (Coyle, E, F & Liben, L, S., 2016).

Research shows that in today's society girls achieve higher academically than boys (Department for Education and Skills, 2007). This can lead to early year's professionals spending more time with boys due them needing more attention. This can lead to girls been left to get on independently with their activities and this in turn can cause girls to feel less confident and become more timid. It is shown that it can result in lower achievement levels due to girls having a lower self-esteem and not feeling confident if they are having academic struggles. This can lead to females having a limit in their career and ending up with a lower paid job. This is why it is vital they practitioners ensure equality and inclusion on a setting regardless to the gender (Eliot, L., 2010).

It is shown that girls are usually more school ready that boys, studies show that this is because often girls are encourage to take part in quieter activities such as reading and drawing, this leads to girls generally receiving better English results in academic testing that boys. Boys are usually steered to more engaging activities such as exploring and been active in the outdoors this often leads to boys struggling in the school environment as they are expected to concentrate and stay quiet for longer periods of time this in turn will result lower academic results due to boys struggling in a testing environment as it is quite and they are expected to concentrate for a longer period of time than they are use to (Thorne, 1993).

The equality and inclusion of all genders

It is vital that early years practitioners promote equality and inclusion within a setting, they should have working policies to ensure they adapt for each social or cultural boundary which needs adhering to. This sometimes can be intentionally not followed when relating it to different genders. Practitioners must ensure that they are treating both boys and girls equally as they are aware of the impact this can have on a child's development.

Results show that often early years settings are majority female staff. It is shown that due to stereotypes females typically offer a more caring environment and due to this it is often a female working environment. By having male practitioners within a setting it is shown that a more balanced workforce is beneficial for children, this leads to both genders having same sex role models and often allows for a more equal setting. It could however be seen that males cannot fulfil this work role as they are seen to be less caring therefore stereotypes would lead to believe they are not caring enough for this role (Karakowsky, L., Et al, 2004). Having a mixed gender work force would allow stereotypes to be challenged as they can role model different expectations such as the male staff playing with dolls and the female staff building in the construction area.

Practitioners can ensure a more equal and inclusive practice by ensuring they promote both genders in non-traditional roles such as women fire people and male nurses. They could also encourage learning opportunities for both regardless of stereotype for example encouraging boys to read and girls to build towers.

The Early Year Foundation Stage (EYFS) states that all children should have an enabling environment full of many play opportunities and that practitioners should ensure they are not encouraging gender stereotypes. This can sometimes be proven difficult to fulfil as practitioners can be unaware of the stereotypes therefore leading to an unequal setting environment (DFE, 2018).

The Equality Act (2010) States that everyone should be treated equally regardless of their age, culture, religion or gender. This act can often challenge discrimination and inequalities which children may experience. The Gender Equality Duty (2007) the act ensures opportunities to be made in all policy for gender opportunities.

It is vital that early year's settings follows policy and they incorporate it into their practice. Policy will vary throughout different setting however the aims will stay the same which will be to ensure equality and an inclusive practice.


The aims of my project involve discovering how gender affects a child's development and how the different choice's which children may make due to gender stereotypes can have an advantage or disadvantage effect on a child's overall development. I aim to indentify how gender role behaviour evolves in children and outline the specific factors which can trigger it. I also aim to explore the policy context which relates to the inclusion and equality of gender and explore how staff support gender equality within a preschool setting.

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By undertaking ethnography in the form of observations and interviews this will allow me to collect the research needed to discover and explore my aims in a reliable context. I have chosen this method as they allow me to gather a small amount of data which can prove reliable however arguments could be made that data may not be gathered in good depth if not enough participates are included in the data gathering. (Good guide research, 2014)

The chosen research method for this project is semi-structure interviews and observations. There are many advantages of using this method however barriers could become apparent which could affect the quality of data which is received. This method will be carried out by individuals on a one to one basis, the individuals which will include practitioner, parents and children will be asked pre-prepared questions. Interviews are shown to gather high quality data which in turn ensures rich information is collected (Habib, M, M., Et al, 2014). A qualitative method is been chosen it allows for subjective information to be gathered. This method will ensure it gathers individual's opinions rather than changing and subjects. It will gather data based on how stereotypes can affect the development for children.

Semi-Structure interviews allow data to be gathered based on a checklist time interview where the questions are prepared in advance, however by using this approach it also allows for the questions to be explored and altered based in the conversation with each individual. The aim to using this approach is that data is allowed to be explored in depth and the individual who is been interviewed is able to be prompted to gain more rich information. This will allow for truthful information as the face to face interviews will indicate if the participants are been truthful with their responses, open questions often lead to more truthful answers are it is shown that no one response will be the same and there is no correct answer.

The individual been interviewed must be understood and communication must be clear to ensure that the research is effective, due to this when completing interviews with children they will be done in a more casual manner during play to ensure that they are comfortable and do not feel like they have to give a specific answer. A good interviewer must be clear in when asking the questions to ensure they are understood however it is useful to use social interaction during the interview and positive body language to create a more relaxed environment, this allows the individual to know they are not been judged based on their answers.

This method has many advantages which include they allow for rich data to be gathered. Face to face interviews are a great way to have a professional discussion, it also allows for any unexpected information to be gathered if the interviewee leads to more information been given. It is likely that both the interviewer and the interviewee will feel more comfortable and give more honest and open answers as they are face to face.

This method however also has some disadvantaged which include that interviews are very time consuming and if planning and time management is not carried out then enough data may not be gathered in time. Interview bias could also be a disadvantage; information could be changed based on what the interviewer wants to hear rather than the interviewee's actual response. If the Interviewer is not confident, comforting and using positive communication then this could lead to a disadvantage. The interviewee must feel comfortable in giving information or it could lead to false information been given based on the interviewee stating what they feel should be said rather than what they actually want to say.

Purposive sampling is chosen for this study as it allows for the researcher to select participants which they feel will provide more relevant data. Practitioners, parents and children have been chosen to be interviewed as this will allow for data to be gathered based on the research questions. The aim is to interview four of each participant and allow myself enough time to gather all this data.

Project management




Consent forms


During the month of November I will carry out gaining consent from my chosen participants. This will allow me to start gathering my data for the study at a faster pace. If consent is refused then this could delay the data gathering, however I have ensured that I have chosen many different participants to replay any which may not give consent.

Gathering research

December and January

During these months I will gather my data. I will ensure that I go forward with the interviews and gather the data needed to answer the research questions. Barriers could be hit in this action such as misunderstandings with the questions which would lead to the data not been rich enough to answer the questions, however I will ensure that the questions are open therefore allowing more trust worthy answers to be given. I will also ensure that the questions are understanding based on each individual as this will overcome any confusion which could occur if the information is misunderstood. Another barrier which would need to be crossed is bias; I must ensure that I am listening to the interviewee to ensure that in data gathered is truthful there for making it accurate.

Evaluation of research


During this time I will evaluate the research which has been gathered, this will allow sufficient time for more research to be gathered if the data is not rich enough to answer the questions. If the data gathered does not fulfil the study then this could be a barrier as it would put a delay on the time schedule as more information would need to be gathered.

Pilot study

A draft study was undertaken to test the reliability of my method. I conducted a sample interview to look over any complications which may be found and address them; it also allowed me to look at the time frame in which I would undertake my research. From my sample interview I discovered my questions were too closed and this brought dishonest answers based on what the interviewee though I was looking for. From this I have opened up my questions which can be extended with a conversation to allow for more reliable and richer answers. This method will now take more time however by planning my interviews and setting out a time frame it will allow for better data to be gathered.

Ethical Issues

It is vital that informed consent is carried out before any research is gathered. All participants should be informed that their involvement in the research is voluntary and that they can withdraw their data at anytime during the research procedure. Before carrying out any research I will ensure that I receive consent via ethical forms (see appendix). The ethical forms will explain the data which I am aiming to gather and also it will explain that all the participants details and identity remains confidential throughout the full research process, it will explain the steps I will take to ensure this information remains confidential, all participants names will be changed to a pseudonym which is designed to keep confidentiality of the individuals. Any information given by the individuals will be treated with respect and also be made to ensure that it is anonymous.

As I will be carrying out interviews and these will be recorded the data will be kept for a period of time, therefore I must ensure that I have well thought-out procedures for storing this data which will be ensuring it is stored in a secure place. The General Data Protection Regulation and The Data Protection Act (2018) principles must be adhered to when gathering information "data shall be collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes" (The Data Protection Act. 2018) data must remain confidential and stored in a secure place whether it be electronically or paper.

Reference list

  • Adler, P., Kless, S., & Adler, P. (1992). Socialization to Gender Roles: Popularity among Elementary School Boys and Girls. Sociology of Education, 65(3), 169-187. doi:10.2307/2112807
  • Bandura, A. (n.d.). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.
  • Berenbaum, S. A., Blakemore, J. E. O., & Beltz, A. M. (2011). A role for biology in gender-related behavior. Sex Roles, 64(11), 804-825. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-9990-8
  • Blakemore, J., Berenbaum, S., & Liben, L. (2012). Gender development . New York: Psychology Press.
  • Brown, C.S., Alabi, B.O., Huynh, V.W., & Masten, C.L. (2011). Ethnicity and gender in late childhood and early adolescence: Group identity and awareness of bias. Developmental Psychology, 47 (2), 463-471.
  • Bussey, K., & Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory of gender development and differentiation. Psychological Review, 106(4), 676-713. doi:http://dx.doi.org.libaccess.hud.ac.uk/10.1037/0033-295X.106.4.676
  • Coyle, E. F., & Liben, L. S. (2016). Affecting girls’ activity and job interests through play: The moderating roles of personal gender salience and game characteristics. Child Development, 87(2), 414-428. doi:10.1111/cdev.12463
  • Department for Education (2018). Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage. Retrieved from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/669079/Early_years_foundation_stage_profile_2018_handbook.pdf
  • Department for Education and Skills (2007). Gender and education: the evidence on pupils in England. Retrieved from http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20090108131527/http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/research/data/uploadfiles/RTP01-07.pdf
  • Eliot, L. (2010) ‘Out with pink and blue: don’t foster the gender divide’ New Scientist , 2769, 19 July.
  • Good research guide : for small-scale social research projects. (2014). Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
  • Gruber, T., Deschenaux, A., Frick, A., & Clément, F. (2017). Group membership influences more social identification than social learning or overimitation in children. Child Development, doi:10.1111/cdev.12931
  • Habib, M. M., Pathik, B. B., & Maryam, H. (2014). Research methodology - contemporary practices : guidelines for academic researchers. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
  • Holmes, M. (2007). What is gender? : sociological aproaches . Los Angeles, Calif. ;: SAGE.
  • Karakowsky, L., McBey, K., & Miller, D. L. (2004). Gender, perceived competence, and power displays: Examining verbal interruptions in a group context. Small Group Research, 35(4), 407-439. doi:10.1177/1046496404263728
  • labelling theory (2015). (4th ed.) Oxford University Press.
  • Langlois, J. H., & Downs, A. C. (1980). Mothers, fathers, and peers as socialization agents of sex-typed play behaviors in young children. Child Development, 51(4), 1237–1247.
  • Maccoby, E. E. (1988). Gender as a social category. Developmental Psychology, (6).
  • Osler, A., & Morrison, M. (2000). Inspecting schools for race equality : OFSTED’s strengths and weaknesses : a report for the Commission for Racial Equality . Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham.
  • Pardue, M. L., & Board, O. H. S. P. I. (2001). Exploring the biological contributions to human health : does sex matter?. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
  • Pascall, Gillian. Gender Equality in the Welfare State?, Policy Press, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/HUD/detail.action?docID=3030248.
  • Pugh, G., & Duffy, B. (2014). Contemporary issues in the early years. Los Angeles: SAGE.
  • Ruble, D. N., Taylor, L. J., Cyphers, L. , Greulich, F. K., Lurye, L. E. and Shrout, P. E. (2007), The Role of Gender Constancy in Early Gender Development. Child Development, 78: 1121-1136. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01056.x
  • Thorne, B. (1993). Gender play : girls and boys in school . Buckingham: Open University Press.
  • Spinner, L., Camreon, L., & Calogero, R. (2018).Peer Toy Play as a Gateway to Children's Gender Flexibility: The Effect of (Counter)Stereotypic Portrayals of Peers In Children's Magazines, Sex roles, 79 (5-6), 314-328.


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