The Formation of Gender Perspectives Among Nursery Class Children

Woodward, David (2003). The Formation of Gender Perspectives Among Nursery Class Children. PhD thesis The Open University.



Although there is ample evidence that awareness of gender is well established among older schoolchildren, there is less certainty about younger children. This study is intended to address this deficiency, principally by participant observation of young children in one primary school.

The study, which employed a type of action research, involved working with four nursery staff members, and a total of seventy-eight children (aged three to five) for the equivalent of one day a week, over a period of ten months. The principal aim of the investigation was to enquire into the elements affecting the development of children’s gender-stereotyped perspectives. This entailed noting both the verbal and non-verbal behaviour of the children and the influence of external factors, including the media, home background and peers. The study endeavoured to investigate and elucidate gender attitudes, from the children’s point of view, while observing their interactions from their own standpoints. Additionally, conversations with parents provided other relevant information.

The researcher and the nursery staff employed a range of strategies, especially adult-child discussions, initially to elicit, and later to endeavour to change, the attitudes of the children. Not all the interventions succeeded, but some did seem to have an effect, with both boys and girls exhibiting some sympathy with the attitudes displayed by the other sex. The study indicates that collaborative procedures can result in children achieving improved scholastic attainment, and self-assurance, while giving staff a better understanding of the children’s own perspectives.

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