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Preschool teachers in Australia encouraged to focus on non-gendered play

Joseph McCormick April 6, 2017

In Victoria, Australia, preschool children will be encouraged away from “gendered play” under a new policy.

A professional learning kit which is being rolled out after a trial this year, aims to encourage teachers to guide children away from “gendered play”, in order to encourage equality and to help tackle family violence.

As well as encouraging non-gendered play with the kids, teachers are also encouraged to reflect on “conscious and unconscious biases”, reports the Australian.

They are recommended to “unpack their understanding of gender and gender identity”, and to avoid using gendered terms such as “good morning princess” or “boys don’t cry”.

Some critics have described the pack as “patronising”, saying it is considered normal for children to gravitate to same-sex playmates by the preschool leavers age, and that teachers shouldn’t have to try and be aware of “unconscious biases”.

It will also encourage children to play with gender-neutral toys, as opposed to gendered dolls and other items.

The guide will be given to some 4,000 preschool teachers following the trial.

The policy changes are made as a AUD$3.4 million initiative as part of the broader $21.8 million Respectful Relationships education package, under the Labor government.

“Do you critically reflect on or intentionally observe gendered play?” the trainers as part of the programme asked participants.

“Can you or have you worked with children to devel­op different storylines in their play? Have you intervened to change gendered play?”

Ministers have praised the policy, saying it simply further equips teachers with the tools they need to promote equality.

Government guidelines in Victoria state that by the age of three, typically children can identify their own gender and show a knowledge of gender-role stereotypes.

A senior research fellow for the Centre for Independent Studies, Jennifer Buckingham, told the Australian that the programme is “objectionable”.

She says: “Firstly, no evidence is provided to show that gender norms are the key contributor to domestic violence and that this can be fixed by ­encouraging kids to play with gender­-neutral toys.

“Secondly, it is pretty patronising to preschool teachers to think they have to be trained out of having unconscious gender biases,” she adds.

Meanwhile, in the UK, a BBC News presenter has posted a series of tweets about gender neutral toilets introduced at a popular London performance venue.

Samira Ahmed, presenter of BBC shows Front Row and Newswatch, launched into a Twitter tirade after the Barbican changed its toilet signs.

Last week Twitter unveiled a “gender-neutral” default profile picture in order to be inclusive and reduce trolling.

Back in 2016, this boy went shopping with his mother to pick out a new toy – when a judgemental shop customer interrupted about his choice of a doll, he put her right in her place.

More: Australia

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