How can we nurture inclusivity in 3-7-year-olds?
Being the influential figures in our children’s lives, we possess the unique responsibility to help them (a) develop diversity awareness and to (b) be a part of intentionally inclusive environments.
• Embracing authenticity: Recognizing and accepting diverse gender identities and sexual orientations allows individuals to live authentically, without fear of judgment or discrimination. It promotes self-acceptance, self-expression, and a sense of belonging.
• Challenging stereotypes: Discussions around gender and LGBTQI+2* help break down harmful stereotypes and societal expectations. It encourages us to question preconceived notions about what it means to be male, female, or part of the LGBTQI+2* community, fostering an environment of inclusivity and acceptance.
• Fostering empathy and understanding: Learning about gender and LGBTQI+2* experiences nurtures empathy and compassion. It helps individuals understand the challenges and discrimination faced by those who do not conform to traditional gender norms or fall within the LGBTQI+2* spectrum.
• Combating discrimination: By promoting awareness of gender and LGBTQI+2* topics, we can address prejudice, discrimination, and bias. Educating ourselves, our children, and others helps to create safer spaces and advocate for equal rights, ensuring everyone can live free from discrimination and oppression.
• Nurturing inclusive communities: Understanding gender and LGBTQI+2* diversity allows us to create inclusive communities that celebrate differences and value the contributions of all individuals. It fosters a culture of acceptance, where everyone can thrive and be respected for who they are.
• Providing role models: Increased visibility of diverse gender identities and LGBTQI+2* individuals offers role models for young people who may be questioning their own identities. It helps them see that they are not alone and that there is support and acceptance available to them.
By teaching inclusivity from an early age, we set the foundation for empathy, respect, and acceptance…
Research shows that introducing gender and LGBTQI+2* concepts at an early age has a positive impact on children’s attitudes and understanding. Between the ages of 3 to 7 years, children embark on a journey of self-exploration, questioning their gender and identity. This developmental phase is characterized by their natural curiosity and open-mindedness, making it an ideal opportunity to introduce and discuss these topics. Furthermore, many children in this age group are part of families and communities where they interact with individuals who have diverse gender identities and LGBTQI+2* experiences. Recognizing this reality underscores the significance of establishing a strong foundation of understanding and acceptance during their formative years.
By teaching inclusivity from an early age, we set the foundation for empathy, respect, and acceptance; however, when addressing topics related to gender and LGBTQI+2* with young children, it is crucial that educators approach the subject in a sensitive and respectful manner. In most cases, it is advisable to inform parents or guardians about the intention to have these conversations as part of the educational curriculum or program. Open communication and collaboration with parents can help ensure that the topics are introduced in a manner consistent with the values and beliefs of the child’s family.
Please: Approach these conversations and activities with age-appropriate language and concepts, taking into consideration the developmental level and understanding of the children.
UNDERSTANDING GENDER AND IDENTITY
Gender is not a simple binary concept; it encompasses a range of identities beyond male and female. It’s crucial to acknowledge and respect these identities, fostering inclusive environments where everyone’s experiences are recognized and celebrated.
Gender identity refers to how individuals perceive and experience their own gender, which may not align with their assigned biological sex.
Gender expression reflects how individuals present themselves to the world.
It’s important we recognize that gender can be fluid and diverse, with many identities and expressions existing beyond traditional norms. Here are a few examples to illustrate the fluidity and diversity of gender identities and expressions:
• Non-Binary: Non-binary individuals identify outside the traditional binary of male and female. They may identify as both genders, neither gender, or a combination of genders. For example, a non-binary person may prefer to use the pronouns they/them and may express themselves in ways that challenge traditional gender norms.
• Genderqueer: Genderqueer individuals have a gender identity that is not exclusively masculine or feminine. They may identify as a blend of genders or as having a gender identity that is fluid. This fluidity can manifest in their gender expression, allowing them to explore various aspects of masculinity and femininity.
• Gender-Fluid:Gender-fluid individuals experience a fluctuation in their gender identity over time. They may feel more masculine on some days and more feminine on others, or they may have a gender identity that is not fixed to any particular category. Their gender expression may also change accordingly, embracing different styles and presentations.
• Two-Spirit: This term originated in Indigenous cultures and represents individuals who embody both masculine and feminine spirits within themselves. Two-Spirit people hold unique roles in their communities and are often revered for their ability to bridge multiple genders and perspectives.
• Agender: Agender individuals do not identify with any gender. They may feel a lack of connection to gender categories altogether and prefer to be recognized as simply human beings rather than being associated with a specific gender identity.
• Transgender: Transgender individuals have a gender identity that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, someone assigned female at birth who identifies as male is a transgender man. Transgender individuals may transition socially, medically, or legally to align their gender identity with their true selves.
Let’s demystify the acronym. LGBTQI+2* stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and the “+” symbolizes additional identities beyond the traditional acronym, while the “2*” allows for flexibility to accommodate emerging identities.
Each term represents unique experiences and identities within the spectrum of gender and sexuality. By understanding and using respectful terminology, we normalise differences and create a safe and inclusive environment for all.
Our own beliefs and attitudes shape the way we interact with children and influence the messages we convey to them. To create an inclusive environment, we must first reflect on our own biases and assumptions regarding gender and LGBTQI+2* identities. By doing this, we get to challenge and overcome any stereotypes or misconceptions that might inadvertently perpetuate discrimination or exclusion, allowing us to then approach discussions on gender and LGBTQI+2* topics with an open mind.
Creating a safe and fun space where children can explore gender and identity can be an enjoyable and enriching experience for both educators and children alike. Here are some ideas for you to try:
• Inclusive Literature: Provide age-appropriate books that feature diverse characters and explore themes of gender identity and LGBTQI+2* experiences. Look for books that celebrate different family structures and portray diverse gender expressions.
• Open Conversations: Create a safe and open environment for children to ask questions and express their thoughts about gender and identity. Encourage discussions that promote understanding, empathy, and respect for differences.
• Inclusive Language: Use inclusive language that acknowledges and respects different gender identities. Introduce and explain pronouns beyond the traditional “he” and “she,” such as “they” for non-binary individuals. Model inclusive language use to encourage children to do the same.
• Music, Art, and Creativity: Engage children in activities of art and music that explore gender and identity. Encourage them to create artwork or express themselves through music, drawings, crafts, or storytelling. This allows for personal exploration and expression. Introduce them to musicians and artists who use gender and identity terms different to their own.
• Role-Playing and Pretend Play: Encourage children to engage in pretend play where they can explore different gender roles and expressions. Provide a variety of dress-up clothes and props that allow for imaginative play beyond traditional gender norms.
• Celebrate Diversity: Incorporate celebrations of diversity and inclusion into daily activities and events. Create opportunities to appreciate and value differences, including those related to gender and LGBTQI+2* identities.
• Community Engagement: Attend community events or parades that celebrate gender and LGBTQI+2* diversity. Exposing children to positive representations and supportive environments helps normalize these identities.
• Guest Speakers: Invite guest speakers from LGBTQI+2* organizations or individuals from diverse gender backgrounds to share their stories and experiences with the children. This allows for first-hand perspectives and fosters understanding.
• Teach Respect and Inclusion: Integrate lessons and activities that emphasize the importance of treating everyone with respect and kindness, regardless of their gender or identity. Foster a sense of inclusivity in all aspects of children’s lives.
• Seek Professional Guidance: Consult with professionals, such as school counsellors, educators, or experts in gender and LGBTQI+2* issues, for guidance on age-appropriate resources, activities, and strategies for introducing these topics to children.
By understanding gender and LGBTQI+2* concepts, we empower ourselves to create environments that celebrate diversity and acceptance.
Remember, your role as caregivers and educators of 3-7-year-olds is pivotal in shaping the next generation of empathetic and inclusive individuals.
Together, we can build a future where every child feels seen, heard, and loved, regardless of their gender or identity. Let that future start today!
Dr Clare Seymour
Clare has spent much of her professional career (over 30 years) in international settings. Part of her Doctoral research involved exploring the often hidden aspects of institutional racism. As a result she has a longstanding interest in, and passion for, promoting positive Diversity.
In addition to school music-teaching, Clare also has over 10 years’ experience working as an international music examiner – an understanding and respect for Diversity is so crucially important in every aspect of her practice.