Why This Swedish Preschool Knows No Gender

Egalia is a preschool that works on the simple principle of treating boys and girls the same.


Group of preschool children taking part in music lesson (SpeedKingz / Shutterstock.com)

Walk into Egalia, a public preschool in Södermalm, Sweden, and you will see girls playing with trucks and boys pushing doll carriages or dinosaurs - basically, all children play with whatever toys they wish to play with. The toys, just like the preschoolers themselves, are not separated by gender.

In 1998, the Swedish government passed an amendment that pushed for more gender-neutral practices in schools. Egalia's director Lotta Rajalin, a preschool administrator, took the idea to heart and in 2010, she and a group of colleagues opened the unique preschool.

There is much more to Egalia's gender neutrality than just the selection of toys. The teachers, both male and female, use gender-neutral language. They address the children as friends instead of boys and girls. They also use the word hen, a Finnish pronoun that has no gender distinction.

According to Egalia's website, "We do not assume that children or adults are in a certain way based on their gender, age, origin or choice of clothing. We do not, for example, assume that girls are calm, sweet and caring while boys are wild, mischievous and boisterous. Everyone is entitled to their own different emotions and expressions."

Children begin to understand the differences between males and females from the time they are infants. Gender studies show that by age two, children can understand the concept of what sex they belong to.

Recognizing that the children know that they are boys or girls Egalia is not trying to make kids genderless. The children are free to explore all options and not be limited to the usual gender stereotypes that girls are princesses and boys are firemen in training.

Rajalin said that the main goal of the school is to diminish the social stigma that comes from gender-specific roles. "We want to give the whole spectrum of life, not just half - that's why we are doing this. We want the children to get to know all the things in life," she told the Novak Djokovic Foundation.

A study from Sweden's Uppsala University suggests that Egalia's students are able to categorize different genders as well as children in more traditional preschools but that they are more likely to play with children from another gender and less likely to assign typical gender stereotypes. The study also determined that differences in school pedagogy are associated with how children think and feel about others based on gender.

In Sweden, gender equality is taken very seriously. In its 2016 report, the World Economic Forum ranked the country fourth in the lowest gender gap. While changing people's perceptions can take time, starting with the littlest ones is a sound way to ensure that it happens.

In 2015, Business Insider even highlighted Egalia as one of the 13 most innovative schools worldwide. It seems that Egalia is doing something very right.

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