Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Children at Play: Learning Gender in the Early Years

Academic journal article American Journal of Play

Children at Play: Learning Gender in the Early Years

Article excerpt

Children at Play: Learning Gender in the Early Years Barbara Martin Sterling, VA: Trentham Books, 2011. 146 pp. $34.95 paper. isbn: 9781858564845

Barbara Martin believes gender is socially constructed, and her objective in writing this book is to help others understand gender development through a feminist poststructuralist lens. The research she conducted for the book includes a twoyear ethnographic study of three- to four-year-old children from an inner-city London primary school where many of the children came from culturally and linguistically diverse, low-income households.

The result is a rich report constructed from watching and listening to children as they learn how to interact, compromise, and negotiate with others and seek to demonstrate their knowledge to her. The book's six chapters present the specific ways children learn and reinforce gender roles during play, and she organizes them around three major themes: space, power, and knowledge; apprenticeship participation; and gender borderwork.

Martin studied where children played and what happened in their play to develop explanations for why they made choices and how they learned to value their choices. She observed that children use power, space, activities, and resources to learn from their social situations and that these discourses-or ways of making meaning-are strong influences on gendered behavior. Indoors and out, children use body postures, actions, speech, and knowledge to interact and negotiate their roles, relationships, and power to move from being peripheral observers to becoming legitimate members in a community of practice. Martin provides extracts from her fieldwork that includes quotes of children's conversations, drawings of classroom and play-space maps, and direct observations to highlight this transition and to validate her findings.

The author discounts biological perceptions and gender dualism because, she claims, they do not embody the full individuality of a child. …

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