Why We Need More Men in Early Years

This is a slightly rejigged version of an article I wrote in early 2018 in Early Years Educator. It discusses why we need more men and what we can do about it.

Working with children in the early years is hands on, to say the least. From rocking a child to sleep, changing messy nappies, through to cleaning up the sick. It involves a kind of intimacy few other professions have. Lucky us that we should choose this as a career.

But these moments matter because, far from being shunted outside into the garden with a football, men working in the profession are doing these things every single day. Cuddles are being given, plasters are being applied, the good moments and the bad. If there is a man in the setting, it may not be obvious, because they should be doing exactly the same thing as everyone else.

But why then, do we persist in the call for more men in early years? What exactly do they do that we are missing? The answer lies in that they are often doing absolutely the same things as women, and that in itself is incredibly significant.

We don’t need men to come in and do traditionally manly things. We need men to come in and change the image of what men have been, to a better image of what men can be. That is, caring, compassionate, vulnerable, sometimes wrong – and not afraid to be any of these.

The importance of a role model, woman or man, that promotes a more ‘gender flexible pedagogy’, as coined by Jo Warin, opens up opportunities for different ways of being. This has the potential to challenge the way we think about gender and its role in wider society. Children who grow up with diverse role models, will not be as restricted by the stereotypes fed to them in the media. Moreover, this has the potential to normalise men doing care work which, for too long, has been deemed a women’s role.

So, what to do about this? Well firstly, we should focus on the existing workforce. By reflecting on our own practice, by challenging our expectations and changing how we relate to children, there is a chance that we can begin to shift our cultural values towards a healthier balance.

Next, we need to think about ways in which we can make the profession more of an option, for more people. This can happen through a change in public discourse around the importance of early years provision. In other words, we need to spread the word.

Having said that, I strongly suspect there are as many articles about men in early years, as there are men in early years! My experience with a local network opened opportunities to attend training on addressing gender stereotypes, parental perspectives on gender roles, a more intersectional approach, and on the socialisation of masculinity. I would strongly encourage you to get involved and seek out opportunities to broaden your knowledge.

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