Freedom to Express: The Importance of Gender Inclusive Play

Posted: August 15, 2022

Children have amazing imaginations and creative processes, when encouraged children learn and grow at an astonishing rate. Providing welcoming spaces that foster inclusive creative play provides children the opportunity to flourish. Play offers children the opportunity to engage in social learning, they observe new ideas and are given the chance to learn new skills.[1] Through play children enact their understanding of gender and therefore it is vital to provide opportunities for inclusive play.

Gender Stereotypes

By the age of two years children understand gender labels and often reflect gender stereotypes they have observed.[2] Children are bombarded by gender stereotypes that come from many sources, such as social interactions with peers and adults, media, and toys. Gender stereotypes are everywhere, a perfect example is the toy section in most stores where there are clearly defined pink and blue aisles. The pink area is full of dolls, household pretend play, and stuffed animals, while the blue area is full of cars, building toys, and science materials. Gendered marketing exposes children to stereotypes from infancy and influences how children play. The boundaries created by stereotypical gender play can have a negative effect on all children since it excludes them from valuable learning opportunities.[3]

How We Can Support Inclusive Play

As adults we play an essential role by either establishing or challenging gender stereotypes. We need to influence children’s play by providing inclusive materials that are open to all. An example of this would be to provide dress up clothes of assorted styles and colours, while encouraging and supporting diversity and personal expression. One of the most important things we can do as adults to support gender inclusive play is to verbally encourage children on their choices and expression. It is important to encourage children to try on dresses and fancy shoes or construction clothes in their play regardless of sex. Also, when we hear children tell their peers, “you can’t play with that it’s for boys/girls” or “that’s a boy/girl toy” we need to challenge these pre-conceptions and re-enforce that play is inclusive. Try saying, “this toy is for everyone” or “we all like different types of toys and everyone can play.” By challenging gender stereotypes and promoting gender inclusive play we can encourage children to be more inclusive and to feel free to be their true selves.

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[1] Vasileva, Vasilena. “The educator’s role in supporting non-gendered play in early childhood education settings.” Children and Young People’s Play Children’s Research Digest., volume 5, issue 2, 2018, https://www.childrensresearchnetwork.org/knowledge/resources/the-educators-role-in-supporting-non-gendered-play-in-early-childhood-education-settings. Accessed August 8, 2022.

[2] Vasileva, Vasilena. “The educator’s role in supporting non-gendered play.”

[3] Vasileva, Vasilena. “The educator’s role in supporting non-gendered play.”