Arshleen Kalra, Head of Curriculum, KLAY Preschools & Daycare, stated that “the first 2000 days of a baby are crucial for their overall learning and development.”

Women’s Day is upon us, and this year’s theme is “Gender equality today to ensure a sustainable future”. Each year, on March 8th, we celebrate women and discuss breaking biases and creating a world without prejudice, discrimination and stereotypes. You may have biases rooted in the past, old customs, and beliefs. Unfortunately, this still holds today.

Two encouraging words are included in the United Nations’ theme announcement, ‘Sustainable Tomorrow’. The key to building a sustainable world without bias is changing your perspective toward living in a diverse equitable, and inclusive environment. This is more than gender-neutral.

For overall learning and development, the first 2000 days are crucial. Children are unaware of their gender or role expectations when they are born. Studies show that children are aware of their gender by age two. By four years old, they begin associating with each gender’s behaviour expectations. Socialisation is a process by which people learn to behave in certain ways according to societal beliefs and values. Based on their early experiences and the environment in which they live, opinions, attitudes and perspectives are formed. Global Early Adolescent Study (WHO) and a study covering 15 countries revealed that culturally-imposed gender stereotypes are firmly rooted in the early adolescent years. This increases the risk of developing mental and physical health problems, which can have long-lasting negative consequences. To create a sustainable future, we must start in the early years.

Teaching for change

Socialising with peers, parents and others around children is a way for them to learn. Schools and teachers are a major part of their lives. The learning environment also influences their opinions about themselves and the world. This article will focus on the ways Early Years professionals can overcome gender stereotypes and bias to create a gender-neutral environment and learning experiences that support every child to reach their full potential. A rich curriculum takes a holistic approach toward diversity and inclusion.

Stories and pictures are a great way for young children to learn. Make sure that the imagery, photos and illustrations are not gender-specific and don’t cast roles. A photo showing fathers doing household chores would be a gender-mix representation of community workers like a policewoman (a term not often used) or a male nurse with other children from different backgrounds, cultures, or disabilities. This is an attempt to overcome stereotypes and role modelling.

No Labelling

Pretend plays are a great way for children to learn. They should be encouraged to play and choose the roles they wish to assume. You can make them pretend to be a chef, babysitter, doctor, or ballerina, and they can wear any clothing/accessories regardless of gender. The child can choose whether a boy or girl would like to wear a scarf or dupatta, or vice versa. Children shouldn’t be told or conditioned to assume gender-specific roles. My experience shows that children learn to respect and appreciate each other when they don’t operate with gender-specific identities.

Learning resources and grouping

Every child will have access to all learning materials and activities – books, arts, crafts blocks, toys, games, STEM-based activities, and sensory activities. The children can engage in any activity and work together.

Gender-neutral vocabulary

Children must be encouraged to refer to their peers as themselves, rather than just them. Teachers refer to the group as “children, ” not as boys or girls. We will redefine typecast concepts in the curriculum as policeman/woman, postal worker, or person/person to reflect gender neutrality. We will use “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun in all writing and speaking situations.

Expression of emotions

Encourage children to be open and respectful of their friends’ feelings. Regardless of gender, situation, or gender, it is okay to cry, jump or laugh louder, feel angry, or be scared. Emotional expression is an essential part of social-emotional health. Through reflective discussion, teachers should challenge the stereotypical observations.

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