No 'he' or 'she' at gender-free preschool

Fredrik Sandberg / AP file / Today
Children play in the garden of "Egalia", a Swedish gender-free preschool in Stockholm, Sweden, where staff avoid using words like "him" or "her" and address the children as "friends" rather than girls and boys.

Does your young daughter play with cars? Does your preschool-aged son pretend to cook with mom? Many parents these days reject traditional (and often, rigid) gender roles for their kids, happily buying trucks and trains for girls and encouraging boys to explore toy kitchens.

But how far would you go? How much is too much when it comes to encouraging kids to be themselves, regardless of gender?

A Swedish preschool might be about to find out. The Egalia Preschool in Stockholm rejects gender identity altogether, choosing not  to address children as either “him” or “her” and using toys, books and other school materials that strictly avoid gender stereotypes.  Traditional children’s stories like “Snow White” and “Cinderella” are banished from the school’s bookshelves.

One teacher at the Egalia School explains in an AP story, “Society expects girls to be girly, nice and pretty and boys to be manly, rough and outgoing. Egalia gives [the preschoolers] a fantastic opportunity to be whoever they want to be.”

Sounds reasonable. But what if your daughter truly loves princesses and your son is a huge fan of Spiderman? Is a “girly” passion for pink or a boy’s seeming ability to create a toy sword out of any object the result of you pushing your gender roles on them – or a normal part of child development?

Tom Hobson, a Seattle preschool teacher and blogger known as “Teacher Tom,” writes about his daughter's preference for overalls and short hair until age 3, when she developed a fondness for princess crowns and tutus. He says: “I believe that the truth about nature vs. nurture lies somewhere in between, and that my own efforts at gender-neutral parenting have borne fruit as my child enters her teenage years, definitely female but not always stereotypically so.”

Several commenters on the parenting forum Café Mom were less than convinced about the gender-neutral preschool idea, with one mom asking “Why must we obliterate everything related to being ‘male’ or ‘female’ in order for people to feel there is equality?”

Interesting to note: the dolls at the Egalia School are anatomically correct, though it’s unlikely that, say, Barbie, with her exaggerated (and unrealistic) female form, would be welcome there. The school also boasts a long waiting list.

Would your child be on that waiting list? What do you think about this approach to preschool?

Related content: He, she or it? Family keeps baby's gender a secret.

Jenny Kales is a Chicago-area freelance writer and mother of two girls who enjoyed both Disney princesses and Thomas the Tank Engine when they were preschoolers. She is also the creator of the award-winning blog “The Nut-Free Mom”