Preschool teachers may unknowingly pass on lessons in gender stereotypes to preschool children when they highlight gender differences.
When teachers call attention to gender, children are more likely to express stereotyped views of what activities are appropriate for boys and girls and which gender they prefer to play with, said Lynn Liben, Distinguished Professor of psychology, Penn State.
The researchers evaluated 57, 3- to 5-year-olds at two preschools over a two-week period.
In one set of classrooms, teachers were asked to avoid making divisions by sex, which was the policy of the preschool.
In the other, teachers were asked to use gendered language and divisions, such as lining children up by gender and asking boys and girls to post their work on separate bulletin boards.
At the end of two weeks, the researchers tested the degree to which the children endorsed cultural gender stereotypes.
Children in the classrooms in which teachers avoided characterizations by sex showed no change in responses or behaviors over the two weeks.
However, children in the other classrooms showed increases in stereotyped attitudes and decreases in their interest in playing with children of the other sex.
The study was published in the current issue of Child Development.