What is child development and education

“Gender Mainstreaming” - information and suggestions for parents and educational professionals

The answers to how the mandate for gender-conscious or gender-sensitive pedagogy is implemented in practice should actually be found in the education plans, programs or guidelines of the federal states. The very different weighting and the way in which they are presented are an indication that the issue of gender has not yet been consistently thought out and formulated by the authors of the programs (Rohrmann, 2011, Rohrmann & Wanzeck-Sielert, 2014). Repairs are to be requested - also from practitioners and, last but not least, from parents.

Gender-conscious pedagogy will not become a quality feature in child day care overnight. Dealing with gender-related issues, pedagogical approaches and, last but not least, reflecting on personal attitudes form an ongoing process. To this end, providers must give their specialists sufficient time and professional support, e.g. through (team) training and supervision.

Gender is a big educational issue

“Education is the human ability to build up a picture of the world. It is an active construction achievement to appropriate the physical and spiritual world, to give meaning and meaning to things " (Liegle 2008, 95).

Children begin to create categories in the first few months of life. For example, they distinguish the living from the lifeless, humans from animals, adults from children and boys from girls. The big educational topic for every child is the question: What is a girl, what is a boy, and what am I? With the beginning of kindergarten children understand that there are two genders and that they either belong to the “boy” or “girl” category. This begins the identification of the criteria that are typical for the respective category. Children construct their image of a “right” boy or a “right” girl, they form themselves with regard to their own social gender (gender). For young children, supposed clarity arises not initially from their biological gender, but from their external appearance (hair clip = girl; baseball cap = boy). So it is to be understood that suddenly stereotypical behavior can be observed. The girls' world turns pink - unless adults have taken care of it earlier - and most boys refuse to do anything that appears to be “for girls” (Rohrmann & Wanzeck-Sielert, 2014).

Boys and girls make an active contribution to the construction of their gender and thus also the gender differences. In the specialist literature, this process is described by the term “doing gender” (Rabe-Kleeberg, 2006). The interests, preferences and talents of girls and boys meet the opportunities that their environment offers them. A Japanese mother is amazed and happy that her daughter is allowed to be “wild” in the German kindergarten and that the girls wear jeans. That would be undesirable in Japan. The jeans are of course pink.

If one understands being a boy / being a girl from the doing gender perspective, it becomes clear that the construction of the social gender is always part of everyday daycare, when working, when eating and also when literacy or natural sciences are part of the curriculum. Educators and parents influence how children form about being a girl or a boy by shaping the educational processes and the educational environment. In the children's construction process, educational specialists and parents are co-designers, not least because of their role as adult role models.

"We focus primarily on the interests of the children" or "We support the development of boys and girls' self-image so that everyone can develop as diverse a range of interests as possible". Both statements are similar, but have different messages with regard to doing gender. What needs to be considered is what the brain researcher Lise Eliot (2010, p. 14f) writes about the plasticity of the brain as the basis for all types of learning: “All elements of the nervous system react to the experiences we have and adapt to them through remodeling. ... Since girls and boys sometimes spend their time with very different activities and early experiences have a particularly large influence on the structure of the nervous system, it would actually be incomprehensible if the brains ... did not function differently". Can the foundations for a good spatial imagination be found in the building corner and in the climbing frame?

Gender begins in the day nursery and should be considered long-term

Even in the first years of life, children are not just babies and toddlers, but also girls (pink) and boys (light blue). Educators can z. For example, you can observe each other yourself or in a team to see whether, for example, they behave differently towards girls in the key situation “changing diapers” than towards boys (e.g. touch, affection, language, duration).

The concept of a “secure basis” in day-care centers, derived from attachment theory, is considered to be decisive for healthy development in the first three years of life (Becker-Stoll, Niesel & Wertfein, 2014). Contrary to the belief of many professionals that all children should be treated equally, boys have less chance of developing a bond-like relationship with a teacher than girls. Ahnert and Gappa (2008) take the view that one of the main causes for z. The different educational opportunities for girls and boys currently being discussed can already be found in the different relationship qualities. Since boys have less chance than girls of developing a bond-like relationship with an educator, the relationship aspects could

"Exploration support" (encouragement; reassurance in the event of uncertainty and fear) and "assistance" (help at the limits of a child's ability to act) in educational processes have less of a lasting effect on boys. Kindergarten teachers react more regulatively to the behavior of boys and are less oriented towards the boys' interests, which tends to weaken rather than strengthen the quality of the relationship. The authors conclude from this that there is a risk that the educational and teaching formats of the educational programs fail to have an impact and that the educational influence on the part of the (female) educators does not materialize.

The identity development of boys also includes the demarcation from the feminine. If the education of boys is largely associated with “female”, there is a risk that everything that has to do with reading, writing, and learning is considered “uncool”, has a low status in boys' groups and ultimately leads to poorer school performance. This risk seems to be particularly great for boys from so-called educationally disadvantaged families (Rabe-Kleberg, 2005).

Kindergarten teachers often find boys more interesting and exciting than girls. However, they must be aware that girls make it easier for them to build and maintain a positive relationship through their more socially adapted behavior. Within the team, it must be ensured that there is at least one reliable caregiver for every boy and every girl who ensures that every child develops a sense of belonging to "their" daycare center and thus guarantees a basis for participation in all educational offers. Since male educators are by no means working in all daycare centers, it should be considered how external male educational role models can be present in everyday daycare.

Boys form in groups of boys, girls form with best friends

When boys and girls have a choice, they often prefer same-sex playmates. With age - between two years and school age - the preference for playmates of the same sex increases. There is likely a cause in the similarity of gaming interests. In girls 'and boys' groups there are gender-specific educational programs, e.g. for forms of interaction, group rules and language styles: more competitive in boys 'groups, more communicative and balancing in girls' groups or relationships with two people (Maccoby, 2000; Büttner, 2003). Boys and girls need same-sex and age-like play partners, friends, for their social and emotional development. But they must also be able to learn to talk and act with one another without gender barriers, to represent and respect different positions, because in a few years they will want to talk to one another.

Gender segregation poses another danger. It can have negative effects on children who are "different" in some aspects, such as girls who act more like boys or boys who behave like girls in the eyes of their peers. Studies have shown that these children have a harder time making friends and “belonging” (McDougall & Hymel, 2007).

Gender is an educational topic for adults and by no means a fun-free zone

“The father of all errors of thought is the 'confirmation error'. We all have favorite theories in mind - about the euro, the meaning of life…. Our brains systematically filter out information that contradicts these favorite theories. This is dangerous." (R. Dobelli, author of “The Art of Clear Thinking"In Zeitmagazin (2012,35, p. 21)

Gender identity develops in a lifelong process, so men and women always have the chance to put their favorite gender theories to the test, and a look at history books can also help.
There is actually a discussion about whether girls' preference for the color pink (Pink Princess phenomenon) could be genetically determined (Fine, 2012, p. 329 f). A study of the preference of colors showed, however, that pink (next to red and purple) is the most popular color among boys up to the age of three (kindergarten entry!), Probably also because the color pink has a calming effect. In earlier centuries, monarchs wore purple and princes the “little purple”: pink. It was not until the 1920s, when blue work clothes became typical for factory workers, that parents chose blue clothes for their sons, and pink got a feminine image (cf. DIE ZEIT No. 48, November 24, 2011).

Compared to the professional and parental attitude towards other educational topics, the educational topic “gender” is more complicated: everyone was once a girl or a boy and with this biography is now a woman or a man. Biographical methods are recommended for entering the subject in the professional field. The gender debate is strongly influenced by the question of the disadvantage of one gender (traditionally girls) or another (currently boys as losers in education). Focusing on this can easily lead to cramps. In all seriousness - de-dramatization is good.

Today instruments and methods are available that support a factual and technically sound approach to gender-sensitive pedagogy (www.genderloops.eu/de). The focus is on children - girls and boys - and so the professional curiosity that observes, listens and reflects is a good start from which, with the participation of boys and girls, alternatives can be developed where they are necessary.

Melitta Walter (2012), one of the pioneers in gender equitable upbringing, used to say: “Try it out - and have fun!”.
This article is dedicated to Melitta Walter (1949-2013).


  • Ahnert, L. & Gappa, M. (2008). Development support with joint upbringing responsibility. In: J. Maywald, B. Schön (Ed.): Cribs. How early care works. Weinheim: Beltz, pp. 74-95
  • Working Group for Child and Youth Welfare - AGJ (2012): Gender sensitivity as a feature and object of upbringing, education and care in day-care centers.
  • Becker-Stoll, F., Niesel, R. & Wertfein, M. (2014). Handbook of day nursery. This is how quality is achieved in day care. Freiburg: Herder
  • Eliot, L. (2010). How Different Are They? Brain development in girls and boys. Berlin: Berlin publishing house
  • Fine, C. (2012). The gender lie. The power of prejudice over women and men. Stuttgart: Velcro Cotta
  • Liegle, L. (2006). Education as an invitation to education. In: W. Thole et al. (Ed.). Education and childhood. Opladen: Barbara Budrich, pp. 85 - 114
  • Maccoby, E. (2000). Gender Psychology. Stuttgart: Velcro Cotta
  • McDougall, P. & Hymel, S. (2007). Same-gender versus cross-gender friendship conceptions: Similar or different? Merril-Palmer Quarterly 53, 347-380.
  • Rabe-Kleberg, U. (2005). Feminization of the upbringing of children. Opportunities or dangers for the educational processes of girls and boys. In: Expert Commission Twelfth Children and Youth Report (Ed.): Development potentials of institutional offers in the elementary sector. Volume 2. Munich: Verlag Deutsches Jugendinstitut. 135-172
  • Rabe-Kleberg, U. (2006), Gender as an Educational Project. How girls and boys appropriate the bisexual world. Affects girls. (19) 3, pp. 100-104
  • Rohrmann, T. (2011). Boys, girls, gender and gender-conscious pedagogy in educational plans and educational programs for daycare centers in the German federal states.
  • Rohrmann, T. & Wanzeck-Sielert, C. (2014). Girls and boys in the KiTa. Body, gender, sexuality. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer
  • Walter, M. (2012). Boys are different, so are girls. Sharpen the eye for a gender-equitable upbringing. Munich. Kösel (5th ed.)

This article appeared in a slightly modified form under the title “Suggestions for gender pedagogy - conflicts not excluded” in KiTa aktuell Spezial 05/2013. The takeover here is done with kind permission.

Further contributions by the author can be found here in our family handbook


Renate Niesel, graduate psychologist, until 2012 research assistant at the State Institute for Early Childhood Education in Munich.


State Institute for Early Education

Corner building north

Winzererstr. 9

80797 Munich