The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds

My other hat, other than writing, is as a family learning tutor for the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA). I have MANY qualifications in the realm of Early Years, Primary Education and Special Educational Needs, and the area absolutely captivates me. I have been teaching adults for two years now, after many years working with children in various roles, and qualified as a Post 16 teacher in July this year, hence the graduation photo from this weekend.

graduation family pic

So, this programme fascinates me no end.

What do we think?

I love the program. It shows girls and boys in their natural state, playing, showing their parents’ mannerisms, navigating the complexities of social friendships and making their voice heard. Tia, for example, is a very strong willed child, who struggled at times to keep friends, but has a heart of gold and is not afraid to share an opinion. Very interesting viewing!

I saw on Twitter people talking about genders on the program, and one of the four year olds saying ‘boys are cleverer’ than boys, and it was an interesting discussion. Where do we think the children get this from? Look at any toy shop advert, book shelf and we see stereotypical toys for girls: dolls, home corner items, make – up. Boys: construction toys, cars, trucks, lego.

What did I play with as a child? Lego and turtles with my little brother, I also played with boys and climbed trees as a girl. I was never into dolls, but I had them.

My boys are 7 and 6 now and growing up they had hoovers, dolls, trucks, trains, a play kitchen, and plenty of dress up. Why? Because they saw Daddy hoover, change nappies, cook (I hate cooking, and he is far better) so why not let them play with these toys.

A year ago, my 6 yo came home from after school club very upset because the girls had been painting nails and he wasn’t allowed to. My response: let him have his nails painted if he wants. Next day: happy boy who felt included with his peers, with clear sparkly nail polish on. Will he be changed forever? No.

My child is who he is. Childhood is precious, they have enough time to conform to society. Now is the time for children to explore the world, and who they are, and want to be within it.

Best quote of the program so far sums it up for me:

Teacher: ‘How are you today?”

Boy: ‘Today, I am a swordfish.’

If you want to be a swordfish little one, so be it.

So next time you go to a shop to buy a child a toy or a book, have a look – are the shelves blue or pink? Are the ‘boys’ books full of pirates, vikings, adventure? Are the ‘girls’ books pink and full of princesses, babies, and damsels in distress?

Parents also play along to these stereotypes – get up, man up, don’t cry, you are not a girl, all these sayings trip off the tongue but our children take them to heart.

The point is, these formative years are so important: they help shape self esteem, confidence, gender recognition, a sense of self. Children should be allowed to explore whatever they like, and not be confined by their gender when possible.

Do we all do this? Yes, of course. I dressed my boys in blue as babies, and there is nothing wrong in that. It’s the pigeon holing throughout childhood that we need to rally against, and it will make all the difference to our children.

If you haven’t watched the TV show yet, it is on Channel 4 catch up and well worth a watch.



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