Expanding understanding, resources for discussions about gender

Child wearing a firefighter's helmet and a doctor's lab coat.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!” Child paints at an easel while wearing a hard hat.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.

Photo of the Moon in daylight by Phil Davis

Daymoon by Phil Davis on NASA site

Some resources for these discussions include:


  • 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.

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1 Response to Expanding understanding, resources for discussions about gender

  1. Peggy Ashbrook says:

    I’m adding a blog post from Homegrown Friends as another important resource for creating an environment where it is safe to ask questions:

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