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“Why did you choose pink? Pink is for girls!”

Debunking Gender Stereotypes with Phenomenon-Based Learning in the Kindergarten

I remember we were making art with the four-year-olds at the kindergarten. The children were asked to choose a coloured paper of their choice to draw on. They had many different colours to choose from. All the girls chose pink, and four out of five boys chose blue. When it came to the last student who happened to be a boy, he wanted to choose pink. As his index finger touched the pink paper, another boy commented “why did you choose pink? Pink is for girls”. The boy choosing the paper stopped, and decided to put his index finger on blue instead. I documented this encounter down. Both my colleague and I decided that this was a good inquiry point for children to investigate the topic of gender stereotyping.

As educators, we encouraged the 4-year-olds to challenge the gender stereotype of “boys like blue. Girls like pink”. We demonstrated to the students critical thinking by asking questions like “Do you think that’s really true that girls like pink, and boys like blue? What if I liked orange?”, “Did you know that pink used to be a very popular colour for boys and blue was very popular for girls?”, “Where do colours come from?”, “Do girls all like the same things, or boys all like the same things?” or “What do other children think about this?”.

The 4-year-olds were asked to work in pairs and collect data by going around and asking other children from other age groups what colours they liked. The 4-year-olds confirmed that not all girls and boys liked the same colours or the same toys. We had discussions on why some children would think that “ballet is for girls” or “toy cars are for boys”, and how that’s not true. One child replied, “yea, I think sometimes I only said it because the other person said they like blue.” Another child expressed that she really genuinely loves pink. Another child then said, “But I change my favourite colours all the time! I think the rainbow colour is the best one”.

We read books that break gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles, such as “Toy Stories: Photos of Children from Around the World and Their Favorite Things”. Then children brought their favourite toys from home and shared their love for those toys to their peers. We celebrated the diversity of the toys, and pointed out that not all girls or boys like the same kinds of toys or hobbies.

This topic also came in a timely manner for International Women’s Day, where mothers with different professions had been invited to talk about their jobs - from being a game developer, an architect, an engineer to a financial advisor.

From the kids’ little survey, they found out that a lot of other children liked “rainbow colour”. That gave another idea for our next phenomenon to be investigated - “What are rainbows?”

As you can see, this one phenomenon of “Why did you choose pink? Pink is for girls.” opened up a huge window for children to develop their 21st century competency skills and transversal skills - critical thinking, collaboration, expression, cultural competence etc.

Phenomenon-based Learning (PhBL) allows children to be the little investigators they naturally are, and develop them as lifelong learners with 21st century competency and transversal skills. As this example showed, PhBL is PERFECT for little children, and it’s not too early to start PhBL. In fact, it’s more challenging to do PhBL in the primary/secondary/high school settings, because the classes tend to be structured and divided into subjects.

PhBL can start with children at an early age asking authentic questions and comments, even when they come with stereotypes. We, as kindergarten teachers, just need to observe and pick up what children are already saying and doing, and develop projects from these questions and comments.

Children ask hundreds of questions all the time, so which ones should we pick to address for PhBL? This is where TinyApp comes in handy - from the pedagogical documentation teachers do everyday, teachers can easily select the most common or most distinctive questions or comments students have made.

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