Sweden is making headlines once again.
Known around the world as a forward-thinking country that focuses on progressive thinking, Sweden is making headlines again for being at the forefront of something that has been a hot topic recently: gender neutrality.
It has become a trend in recent years for many parents to focus on raising their child in a gender-neutral environment. This is meant as a way for the child to chose what gender they resonate with, instead of relying solely on cultural norms. But for many parents, this action can be easier said than done because once their child goes to school, they are surrounded by the classic gender division of boys and girls.
But a few preschools and kindergarten in Sweden seem to have got it right.
Across the country, about three-fourths of young children participate in a preschool program. They are nothing like some preschools and kindergartens in Sweden, however, who have chosen to make their educational curriculum completely gender neutral.
According to preschool administrator Lotta Rajalin, the gender-neutral kindergartens don’t separate toys or learning material by what is typically deemed “girly” or “boyish.” Instead, there are baby strollers mingled in with dump trucks, tutus on robots, and skeleton toy figures instead of the traditional Barbie. Additionally, girls and boys both are encouraged to participate in different activities to show their full range of emotions.
Rajalin described all of this detail in a recent Tedx Talk. She explained that each child is handled by their emotions, rather than what their gender says about them:
“What we do in our schools, we [don’t] put labels on the children. We don’t say, ‘Frida, she’s so beautiful, cute and helpful,’ and ‘Mohammed is so wild and tough.’”
Teachers at these preschools are also trained not to use gender specific pronouns, replacing the Swedish words “han” (he) and “hon” (she) with the gender neutral “hen.” Hen was officially added into the Swedish dictionary two years ago, and is used exclusively in these schools. The teachers also refer to the students as “friends” and “kids” instead of “girls and boys.”
It turns out that these gender-neutral schools are beneficial to child development as well. A small study published by the Swedish Uppsala University recently showed that children who attended these schools were less likely to stereotype and discriminate against children of other genders. For many proponents of these schools, this finding suggests that early intervention is key when it comes to emphasizing gender equality from a young age.
And considering that a child’s brain develops the fastest between birth and three years old, the younger the child attends these specialized preschools, the easier it will be for them to overcome ideas of gender inequality down the road, according to Rajalin.
Ben Kenward, lead author of the Uppsala finding explained why this finding is important in a news release:
“Together the results suggest that although gender-neutral pedagogy on its own may not reduce children’s tendency to use gender to categorize people, it reduces their tendency to gender-stereotype and gender-segregate, which could widen the opportunities available to them.”
Sweden has a long history of being incredibly progressive when it comes to their views on gender. Back in 1998, an amendment to Sweden’s national education act required that public schools, regardless of age, have to start teaching and encouraging gender neutral policies.
So, with this in mind one can ask the question — what will Sweden do next?