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It's child's play

It’s Child’s Play is a resource for teachers to use in class every day. It contains a set of accompanying notes on the project books and how to use them, plus more information on using children’s literature to challenge gender stereotypes.

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Breaking the Mould

The NEU worked with five primary schools over two years to consider how ‘traditional’ gender stereotypes could be challenged in nursery and primary classrooms.

Teaching resource

Introduction from the project co-ordinator

The following notes are intended to support the use of some of the most popular books from the Breaking The Mould project.

Teachers and other staff used a range of approaches to consider how they could challenge gender stereotypes in the classroom.

A significant body of research confirms that gender stereotyping impacts negatively on young people in terms of everything from educational attainment and career choices to self-esteem and body image.

Stereotypical views of what girls and boys ‘should’ like and do are established early so it is never too soon to start challenging these ideas and to talk about how we can all do whatever we like and shouldn’t feel the need to conform to the expectations of others.

In the world of children’s books, much of the real work still seems to be done by Postman Pat and Fireman Sam while girls, apparently, have less practical aspirations – such as being a princess or wearing anything as long as it’s pink. Many books seem designed to exaggerate any inherent differences which may exist between girls and boys. Colouring books, for example, are frequently identified as being ‘for’ one sex or the other and contain completely different content. The implication is clear: boys and girls have nothing in common and anyone who enjoys things not typically associated with their gender is, at best, unusual.

The starting point for much of the work in schools was a wish to confront the idea that there are “girls’ things” and “boys’ things”. Characters in all of these books challenge some of the conventional ideas of what girls and boys enjoy and aspire to – and act as positive role models as children seek to establish their own individual identities.

The notes should help school staff and parents/carers to bring out the rich subtext of the stories and to get the most out of reading them with children. They include suggestions for developing discussions around the key plot points in each book and for possible extension activities. It is hoped that schools will use them to inform their own wider discussions around gender and to develop lessons across the curriculum.

The notes here focus on picture books. The list of project books at the end of the resource also contains a few examples of longer fiction titles that address gender equality and many others can be sourced from the recommended booksellers.

Keen eyed readers will note that most of the books here feature male protagonists which might seem surprising in a resource which seeks to promote gender equality. The books we’ve included are the ones that schools found most useful, cover the broadest range of issues and are suitable for challenging gender stereotypes with both girls and boys.

You’ll find suggestions for other ‘female led’ stories in the text and many of these can be used to discuss the same issues highlighted here.

Look at the Breaking The Mould resources for examples of other ways to challenge stereotypes about girls and boys. When reading with children, we would encourage you to include as many stories about unstereotypical children as you can!

Mark Jennett

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