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Outdoor Gender Play

By Aimee Collett


I have noticed not only in other nurseries but also in our homes that many practitioners or key carers keep their home corner or role play area indoors, but not in the outdoors but why? The weather is fabulous and I feel not only due to my childcare background but as a mother that we should be mirroring our indoor play areas outside.

Building dens and constructing enclosures and defined home spaces with big blocks, crates and planks, or clothes horses and blankets allows both boys and girls to engage in ‘home building’ as well as home keeping. Willow structures work well, as does a natural gap in the bushes for creating a home space furnished with a few cups and bowls and a pretend fire.

Dressing-up clothes can bring boys into the home corner. There are lots available now that are likely to appeal to boys, although sometimes an old jacket and a tie or cap will do just as well. It is common for boys of this age to also want to play with girls’ dressing-up clothes. This is normal and should never be discouraged, although some parents and practitioners might struggle with it.

Help children to appreciate that it is a healthy form of experimentation and support them as they find positive ways of talking with children about it. Cloaks and capes are non-prescriptive and perfect for open-ended play for both boys and girls.

Think about the role models your boys spend time with. Look out for good storybooks that show men and boys involved in domestic activities and caring roles and display them by the home corner.

Write group stories about Superman minding the baby or Batman saving the day when he cooked the nursery dinner. Make sure that male members of your family engage in lots of domestic role play and always invite visitors to take tea in the home corner with the boys!

Both boys and girls are subject to gender bias from an early age. Even when we think we are completely unbiased, we still respond to certain norms in our society – would you put a pink hat on a baby boy? So, not surprisingly, children are quick to pick up on what is ‘acceptable’ for boys to play with and what is not.

And yet we know that all babies love to play with pots and pans and little boys like dressing up and playing mummies and daddies with pretend tea sets. This makes a supportive and encouraging environment important in allowing boys to feel comfortable and confident playing in a home corner.

Something for the teachers out there:

If there are lots of girls using a relatively small home corner, or they are using a lot of energy in keeping the boys out, perhaps you need to make the space bigger and increase the ‘domestic’ play resources available. This will reassure the girls that there is enough for their needs and increase the likelihood that they will feel able to share them.

Encouraging and supporting the girls to explore and use more of the space in the setting will free up the home corner area for the boys who may not need much encouragement to play there, once the space opens up and incorporates activities and resources that interest them.

You can invest in little kitchens or post office structures from Ikea or the Early Learning Center.


About Aimee: When I am not blogging or reviewing I work full-time running my ‘Eco Friendly’ Nursery and can usually be found in Jumeriah Lake Towers, Dubai at Paddington Nursery, face covered in paint. With my love of children and being healthy I created a Lifestyle Initiative in the middle of Dubai where children come to learn and prepare themselves for the long scary journey of ‘life’.

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