Men’s contribution to play in early childhood


Following last week’s blog about attracting men to the ECEC workforce, we were contacted by someone interested to know more about a workshop we gave at last year’s Men in Early Years conference in Bradford. We spoke about how we’d explored whether men may have a unique contribution to make to young children’s play. More specifically, we considered three questions:

  • Is there a link between practitioner gender and where they choose to play?
  • Are there certain practices that male practitioners could lead on?
  • Are there are certain play practices that men may be more comfortable with?

As we said last week, we aren’t interested in the answers to these questions because we are adopting a deficit model of women and believe that male practitioners are necessary because they are in some way better than female practitioners. But we do believe that having a greater understanding of the answers to these questions may help us to challenge the gender imbalance within the ECEC workforce; a recent Fatherhood Institute report states that currently 2% of ECEC practitioners in the UK are male however they warn of the dangers of attributing specific dispositions and skills to male practitioners.

But let’s think about our questions one by one. What do you think – is there a link between practitioner gender and where they choose to play? Some researchers think so. For instance in research conducted in Norway and Austria, Emilsen and Koch (2010, p.543) found that male ECEC practitioners who are able to spend time in the outdoor environment “feel more freedom to work with children in their own way” and thus argue that “enhancing the outdoor-sector within the concepts of childcare would increase the number of men in early childhood education and care”. That’s not, of course, to say either that we think all male practitioners want to spend lots of time outdoors, or that female practitioners don’t.

Secondly, are there certain practices that male practitioners could lead on? We alluded to this last week, when we said that Sandseter (2014, p.434) states male practitioners “have a more liberal attitude towards children’s risky play” than women. Her research (again within the Norwegian context) suggests between male and female ECEC practitioners, male ECEC practitioners reported higher levels of “excitement seeking” which meant they were more tolerant of risk in children’s play. This is important because risk-taking plays an important role in children’s learning and development, yet people like Tim Gill (2007) argue that “childhood is becoming undermined by risk aversion”.

Finally, what about play practices that men may be more comfortable with? Some researchers, like Fletcher et al. (2012) suggest that one type of play where men may have an significant role is rough-and-tumble play; they suggest that this type of boisterous play is “an important feature of father–child relationships” (p.746). Rough-and-tumble play has been identified as having a range of benefits, particularly because of the opportunities it gives for social development and physical development. Again, although we aren’t saying that this is something that all men will be happy with engaging in, but if it is something that male practitioners are comfortable with then this might be a type of practice they could lead on.

So, we’ve got three possible important contributions men can bring to play in early childhood – within the outdoor environment, in risky play and through rough-and-tumble play. Acknowledging these might make more men feel comfortable to become part of the ECEC workforce. But you might have other ideas about the contribution men can make to children’s play. What are your thoughts? We would love to hear them.

2 thoughts on “Men’s contribution to play in early childhood

  1. Pingback: Mind the gap: Geographical inequalities for children within England – Contemplating Childhoods

  2. Pingback: LEGO: The building blocks of children’s development – Contemplating Childhoods

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