In my new granny role, I'm learning to be wary about making assumptions about the underlying reasons for gender-stereotypical behaviour.
Arlo, aged 11 months, has just been given his first car, a chunky red one. He has become very skilful at crawling around using one arm, while he pushes the car with his free arm.
“What is it about boys and cars, even at this age?” his mum (my daughter) asks.
Is Arlo already a ‘car-mad’ boy? Let’s look at what we do know about him…
He is an active child, interested in moving around, crawling from room to room, pulling himself up on the furniture, exploring a table leg, a book on the sofa, the pattern and texture in the upholstery before lowering himself down and setting off again across the room. When he is on the floor by his toy box, he sometimes has a peek inside, but quite quickly, he’ll turn himself round and head off to explore his world again.
His red, chunky car fits into this scheme of play very well as it gives an additional dimension to his crawling. So, is it the car he’s interested in, or the movement? If we decide it’s the car, then he’ll be given more cars, and his play with wheeled vehicles will be reinforced by positive comments.
But let’s watch him, on the floor while the shopping is being unpacked…
He spots a large packet of toilet rolls that has been put down on the floor. He crawls over and puts one hand on top of the packet, and off he goes, pushing the toilet rolls across the room.
If we assume that Arlo is ‘car-mad’ because he enjoys crawling and pushing cars, then he will be given more cars and he will pick up cues from people around him that tell him that playing with cars is acceptable and appropriate behaviour. If we decide that Arlo loves being on the move and that’s why he is drawn towards cars, he can also be given a doll’s buggy or animals on wheels, and he can be taken to the park to enjoy moving on different surfaces and in different dimensions, up, along and through climbing apparatus and the natural environment. The challenge is to respond positively to all children’s preoccupations but also to expand options for different types of play.