There are no “boys” or “girls” when teachers address their students at the Stockholm, Sweden-based “Egalia” preschool—just “friends.” In an effort to fight gender stereotypes and advance equality between the sexes, school staff try to avoid using gender-specific pronouns like “him” or “her” (“han” or “hon” in Swedish), choosing to use the genderless “hen” (which technically isn’t a word in Swedish but is used in some feminist and gay circles) and carefully choose the books and toys allowed in the classrooms, reports the Associated Press.
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The taxpayer-funded preschool opened last year and is open to kids ages 1 to 6. In addition to trying to foster a sense of gender neutrality, the school also emphasizes tolerance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people (most of the kids’ books address single parents, adoption, or gay couples). And while Egalia stands out for its rather radical approach, breaking down gender roles is a core mission in the Swedish national curriculum for preschools. Sweden and three other Nordic countries lead the way globally when it comes to gender equality, according to a 2010 World Economic Forum report on the global gender gap, and it is also a leader in legalizing gay and lesbian partnerships.
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"Society expects girls to be girlie, nice and pretty and boys to be manly, rough and outgoing," says a teacher quoted in the article. "Egalia gives them a fantastic opportunity to be whoever they want to be." To that end, building blocks are placed next to the play kitchen in an effort to equalize attitudes toward cooking and construction.
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But, while the school has a long waiting list for admission, it also has its detractors, including parents who believe that its approach could create confusion among the kids and leave them poorly prepared to face the real world, as well as those who feel it doesn’t take into account kids’ natural interests, like boys’ tendency to run around and turn sticks into swords—or just about anything into a gun—and girls’ seemingly inherent instinct to nurture their baby dolls instead of building a block fort.
What’s your take on this approach to preschool? Would you want to send your child to a similar school?