Date of Award

8-2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Child and Family Studies

Major Professor

Hillary N. Fouts

Committee Members

Greer L. Fox, Carin Neitzel, Terri C. Orme

Abstract

Researchers who have studied the process of socialization have found that preschool is one of the first social exposures to direct teaching of societal norms including norms about gender-roles. Further, it has been found that there is a difference in teachers’ behavior toward boys and girls in preschool classrooms but most studies on gender differences in preschool classrooms have been conducted with middle-class populations. Thus, the primary purpose of this study was to examine how preschool age children from low-income families (in Head Start) might have different experiences in their classrooms depending on their gender.

In order to achieve the purpose of the study, a mixed-methods approach was employed thus bringing together context-specific focal-child observational data, observational field notes, and interviews with the teachers in four classrooms. 20 boys and 20 girls from four preschool classrooms in Head Start were observed and lead and assistant teachers from the classrooms in which children were observed were interviewed in order to obtain their perceptions on gender-roles.

Findings from focal-child observations indicated generally low levels of teacher modifications, directions, assistance and responses to children regardless of gender. It was also found that boys were modified by teachers more than the girls across all classrooms. A main effect for context was also revealed and on further analysis it was found that there were significantly more teacher-child interactions during snack/meal time than during group and free play times. Findings from teacher interviews showed that most teachers perceived boys as louder and harder to manage than girls. The majority of teachers also mentioned that children engaged in gender-based play in the classroom and that teachers made attempts to reduce gender-based play and to let children know that gender is not a barrier and that they can do whatever they want regardless of gender.

Results are discussed in relation to children’s experiences and teachers’ perceptions, teachers’ role in gender-role development, and gender-based play by children. Some implications for future research and practice include teacher education and training, reducing stereotypical gender-roles in children and aiding in development of nonbiased preschool curriculum.

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