Young children’s imaginative play often includes creating family groups with toy animals or dolls, and role-playing with housekeeping and dress-up materials. They recreate the relationships they experience or know of from books and other media. As a “mother dog,” a child will tell the “puppies” to follow her. Children who behave out of character, such as sitting at a table instead of curling up on a blanket on the floor, get called out by other children–“Dogs don’t sit at tables!” Children who wear clothing not designed to go together may be told, “Doctors don’t wear hardhats!” Sometimes children’s lack of experience may be revealed in their play. I don’t hear “Girls can’t be doctors” these days but I have heard “Only boys can drive the truck,” in spite of the role models available today.
Just as we work to expand children’s understanding of when the Moon is visible (not only at night as portrayed in most media but in the daytime too), we can expand children’s understanding of gender roles in careers, friendships, and family. Just as we create a safe environment for children to voice their questions about science content, we maintain that safe environment for all questions.
Some resources for these discussions include:
- Bringing Boys and Girls Together: Supporting Preschoolers’ Positive Peer Relationships by Hillary Manaster and Maureen Jobe. Young Children. November 2012.
- Every Color on the Canvas: Using Art to Explore Preschoolers’ Understanding of Differences by Meagan K. Shedd and Rebecca L. Coyner. July 2015. Young Children. 70 (3): 84-87
- U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, Administration for Families and Children. Partnering with LGBT families in Early Head Start and Head Start by Angie Godfrey. June 18, 2013.
- Welcoming Schools, a resource for educators for tools to address bias-based name-calling and bullying, and to meet the needs of students whose family structures are not well represented or included in school environments.
Any conversations that encourage critical thinking and using evidence from observations help children build their understanding of the world. Read about moon misconceptions in children’s literature in “The Moon in Children’s Literature: How to avoid the pitfalls of introducing misconceptions when reading about the Moon,” by Kathy Cabe Trundle and Thomas H. Troland in the October 2005 issue of Science and Children.