Dolls, building blocks and outdoor activity days: (un)doing gender in the nursery


Girls play with dolls and boys with building blocks? To what extent do the toys available at nurseries and the behaviour of preschool teachers reinforce stereotypical gender concepts? To what extent are such concepts modified? How do children learn what is acceptable behaviour for a boy or a girl? Do men as preschool teachers bring a different impetus to the work compared to women? Using qualitative methods, the researchers will investigate “doing gender” in Swiss nurseries.

Project description (completed research project)

Childcare services for preschool children have become more important in recent years. However, only few studies are available in this field, and gender aspects have hardly been investigated. This is surprising, as preschool teacher is a profession rarely chosen by men, and it is in preschool age, from 3 to 6 years, that children develop their first stable understanding of gender. For enhancing equality between women and men, it is important that children at this age are not restricted in their development through the transmission of stereotyped behaviours.


The researchers aim to investigate how interactions and everyday activities in the nursery tend to either emphasise differences between the genders or make gender differences retreat into the background (un/doing gender). For this purpose the researchers will conduct interviews and video-based observations at preschool day care facilities in the German-speaking region of Switzerland . They will then analyse the data with regard to the interactions between the children and the male and female teachers, the play activities offered and aspects of the nursery space. The focus lies not only on the extent to which gender-stereotypical toys or forms of interaction are used, but also on the available alternatives. Furthermore, the study will examine whether male preschool teachers bring alternative forms of interaction to the nursery.

Original title

Puppenstuben, Bauecken und Waldtage: «(Un)doing» gender in Kinderkrippen

Project leader(s)

  • Prof. Julia Nentwich, Lehrstuhl für Organisationspsychologie (OPSY), Universität St. Gallen
  • Prof. Franziska Vogt, Institut für Lehr- und Lernforschung, Pädagogische Hochschule St. Gallen
  • Wiebke Tennhoff, OPSY, Universität St. Gallen
  • Stefanie Schälin, OPSY, Universität St. Gallen