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Both fixed and varying gender patterns in children's everyday activities

June 21, 2010

While the shock absorbers are always girls, both boys and girls can be teacher's helper. A thesis from the University of Gothenburg shows that gender patterns are being both cemented and challenged in preschool and early primary education.

Various order and discipline functions are a clear part of everyday activities in preschool and primary education, and sometimes involve children being given the job of teacher's helper. The results of Ylva Odenbring's thesis show how this role (referred to as "sub-teacher" by researchers) can actually be divided into three different functions: mixed groups, sub-teachers and shock absorbers.

"Gender plays a role in some contexts, but is less important in others," says Odenbring. "Overall, the study shows that masculinities and femininities can emerge in many different ways."

Exercising responsibility

In her study, the role of sub-teacher involves a positive exercising of responsibility in more teacher-oriented work, and is a role that is assumed by both boys and girls.

The function of maintaining order as shock absorbers and the responsibility for mixing up groups is, however, something that is given only to girls. The primary role of shock absorbers is to calm down rowdy boys.

"It's based on an idea of girls' expected maturity, which in turn builds on traditional patterns and cements stereotypical expectations," says Odenbring.

Boys physically close

In the thesis she also highlights the importance of children's bodily interaction. Her results show that the bodily interaction between children is important for how they contextualise gender. Overall the study's results show that boys are physically closer to each other, through embraces and hugs, than has been indicated in previous research.
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University of Gothenburg

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