How to Pick A Preschool for Your Daughter That Isn't Sexist

Updated on December 15, 2019
letstalkabouteduc profile image

Ms. Meyers is a credentialed teacher with a master's degree in special education. She spent many years teaching preschool and kindergarten.

Girls at preschool should wear clothes and shoes for painting, climbing, running, and getting messy.
Girls at preschool should wear clothes and shoes for painting, climbing, running, and getting messy. | Source

Sexist Practices in Education Start at Preschool

There's a lot for parents to contemplate when choosing a preschool for their child. Of course, they should seek one with a low student-to-teacher ratio so their youngster is kept safe and gets personal attention. They should also search for one that's child-centered with an emphasis on play and exploration. Moreover, they should certainly avoid those that are teacher-centered with too many structured activities such as long circle times and tedious calendar activities.

If they have a daughter, though, they also need to consider how boys and girls are treated differently (in subtle ways and not so subtle ways) and how that promotes sexism at a young age. This discriminatory treatment hurts both genders but especially girls as they are put in the role of observers rather than doers.

Some Preschools Promote Sexism Without Realizing It

As both an early childhood educator and the mother of two boys, I've seen firsthand how some preschools address the issue of sexism head-on, some are blind to it, and some actually promote it. My older son attended a nonprofit co-op that followed the practices of the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children). His highly-qualified teacher did an incredible job of making sure all the kids—boys and girls alike—were engaged in a wide-variety of activities and had the same opportunities for play and exploration.

My younger son, though, attended a private preschool where boys and girls were treated quite differently. While the teachers there were kind and hardworking, they unwittingly engaged in sexist practices every single day and it was clearly to the detriment of girls. Therefore, if parents are picking a preschool for their daughters, they need to be aware of this and consider theses 6 ways that sexism still permeates early childhood education today.

6 Common Sexist Practices at Preschool

1. The teacher's greeting focuses on the children's appearance

2. There's no dress code, turning girls Into observers instead of doers

3. Letting the Princess Culture Reign

4. Not Encouraging Girls to Play With Blocks

5. Giving Too Much Praise

6. Setting Up Dramatic Play Areas That Perpetuate Gender Stereotypes

1. The Teacher's Greeting Focuses on the Children's Appearance

Kids feel comforted when they're greeted warmly upon their arrival at preschool. A teacher's friendly greeting makes them feel special, calms their nerves, reassures them that they're safe, and gets them excited about being there. My older son's teacher would recognize each child individually as they entered the room, asking questions in her kind, calm voice: “How are you? What do you want to do? Who will you play with today?” The overall message was: This is your place to explore and have fun. I'm here if you need me.

The teachers at my younger son's school had a radically different approach that delighted many of the mothers but was quite sexist. When entering the classtoom, the children were greeted with loud, over-the-top comments always focused on their appearance. These superficial accolades that typically were targeted on their girls and usually centered on the clothes they were wearing and how their hair was styled. Teachers would prooclaim enthusiastically: “You look so cute today with your hair in pigtails...I love your pink dress. You look just like a princess...I wish I had a pair of those adorable sandals!” There was no mistaking that girls were getting the message that looks matter most and the preschool was more of a fashion show than anything else.

2. There's No Dress Code, Turning Girls Into Observers Instead of Doers

The dress code at preschool reflects the school's philosophy. An experienced and knowledgeable teacher communicates the dress code to parents, explains its importance, and enforces it. At my older son's school, the kids were required to wear old play clothes that could get dirty and even ruined. The teacher was unapologetic when an outfit got stained with mud, paint, or clay because preschool was a place to get messy, be active, and take risks. At my younger son's preschool, however, there were no guidelines for appropriate attire. Some girls came to class in dresses, skirts, and even Disney princess gowns! This greatly limited their ability to participate in the day's activities, turning them into observers rather than doers.

3. Letting the Princess Culture Reign

The Princess Culture reigns in many preschools today with girls wearing tiaras and gowns, pretending they live in castles, and believing their looks count more than their actions. Some teachers don't want to fight this craze even though they know it promotes gender stereotypes. Others see it as cute and innocuous, unaware of its long-range harmful effects. While my older son's teacher made certain his preschool was free of it, my younger son's teachers let the princess culture reign freely in their classroom.

His teachers did craft projects that celebrated the Princess Culture such as making royal wands and decorating crowns. They read books such as the popular Pinkalicious about a bratty little girl who loves everything pink. They let commercial products fill the classroom—My Little Pony, Star Wars, and Polly Pocket—that limit the imagination and promote sexism. Girls got their message that they didn't need to be strong and smart, just pretty.

Letting girls wear princess dresses to preschool creates a sexist environment. Girls in princess dresses become observers, not doers.
Letting girls wear princess dresses to preschool creates a sexist environment. Girls in princess dresses become observers, not doers. | Source

4. Not Encouraging Girls to Play With Blocks

While STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math) garners a lot of attention these days, preschools have led the way in that arena long before it was fashionable. Children gathering on the floor to build with simple wooden blocks is one of the best ways to learn about problem solving, balance, measurement, equivalencies, gravity, shapes, and sizes. It also boosts communication skills, imagination, and team work.

Since there's an abundance of research showing the benefits of playing with blocks, it's disheartening that few girls do it at preschool. When my younger son's classmates had Free Choice Time (an hour when they picked what they wanted to do), the boys would always rush over to the carpet and start building towers, freeways, and skyscrapers with blocks. The conversations and camaraderie were impressive as they worked together to create something amazing. Most of the girls, however, spent their time doing teacher-directed art projects, which did virtually nothing to stimulate their imagination and independence.

5. Giving Too Much Praise

Giving children too much praise may sound like a first-world problem. Nonetheless, it's a concern today as parents and teachers pile on the compliments, making kids overly dependent on external reinforcements. There's even a name given to these youngsters, praise junkies, because they become overly dependent on validation— craving it like a druggie wanting his next fix. They don't enjoy an activity for its own sake, whether it's painting at an easel, swinging on the bars, or riding a tricycle. They're the kids who always scream “look at, look at me” at the playground, putting parental approval above having fun and making friends.

Girls at preschool are more susceptible to becoming praise junkies than boys. At my older son's co-op preschool, the teacher trained us parent-helpers to be mindful of how we offered encouragement. Instead of making a comment such as: “You made a beautiful painting,” we said “Tell me about your painting” or asked “How did you feel when you were making it?” Instead of producing more praise junkies, we pushed to empower the kids by promoting conversation, critical thinking, and vocabulary development.

6. Setting Up Dramatic Play Areas That Perpetuate Gender Stereotypes

Having a dramatic play area at preschool is a fantastic way to stimulate children's imagination and promote social skills. Too often, however, the area is limited to a sink, a refrigerator, dishes, fake food, and dolls. It pigeonholes the kids in stereotypical male/female roles as husband and wife, mother and father. Too often only girls use the dramatic play area while boys build with blocks or dig in the sandbox.

A talented preschool teacher envisions a dramatic play area with endless possibilities. My older son's teacher changed it up every month. First it was the traditional kitchen but then became a veterinarian clinic, an Italian restaurant, a grocery store, an art studio, a publishing company, a shoe store, and a science laboratory. She invited parents in these professions to spend time with the kids in the dramatic play area, introducing them to new roles, new vocabulary, and new skills.

By changing up the dramatic play area, teachers stimulate children's imaginations and let them experience new professions.
By changing up the dramatic play area, teachers stimulate children's imaginations and let them experience new professions. | Source

A Must-Have for Moms and Dads of Daughters

Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture
Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture

If you have a daughter, this is the book for you. As a teacher, I've become alarmed at today's girlie-girl culture and its impact on our children. This book confirms my worst fears. As parents and teachers, it's our job to protect our girls from growing up too fast, from becoming sexualized, and from buying into a commercialized culture that says beauty is the path to happiness and success. You'll stop seeing the princess culture as innocuous, start seeing it as dangerous, and want to take action.


Questions & Answers

    © 2017 McKenna Meyers


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      • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

        McKenna Meyers 

        2 years ago

        Thanks, Dora. Since my sons went to different preschools, I got to see how one discouraged gender inequality and the other actually promoted it. At my younger son's preschool, things were a lot more sexist there than when I went to preschool 4o years earlier! It upset me that we were moving backward instead of forward. It really takes a strong leader at a preschool to set guidelines and follow through with them -- rather it involves gender equality or something else.

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        2 years ago from The Caribbean

        Very insightful.I never gave much thought to gender equality in preschool, but your article is an eye opener. Thanks and I hope those to whom it matters, follows your sensible suggestions.


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