Resource Type Care Inspectorate Programmes & Publications

Gender equal play in early learning and childcare

Gender equal play in early learning and childcare is an improvement resource that promotes gender equality in how children experience early learning and childcare (ELC) and gives people working in ELC practical tips on avoiding gender stereotyping.

The resource aims to boost their awareness of the positive benefits of encouraging and supporting gender equality from an early age. Launching the resource in December 2018, Maree Todd, Minister for Children and Young People said: “Evidence shows that gender stereotyping from a very early age has an impact on the decisions that girls and boys make about their future subject and career choices. This guide explains the importance of challenging gender stereotyping and provides ideas and examples for early years professionals of existing good practice.”

Children’s experience of childhood and play is becoming more gendered and polarised between girls and boys, with products such as toys, books, online resources and clothes increasingly being produced and marketed along gender lines. Academic research highlights the negative impact on all children of gender stereotyping and the important role that ELC can have in positively promoting gender equality. This resource has been co-produced by the Care Inspectorate and Zero Tolerance in order to help practitioners enhance gender equality for children across all ELC settings. As part of this collaborative project, we worked in partnership with other organisations including Play Scotland, Education Scotland and the Gender Friendly Nurseries Project.

The benefits for children and society more generally from the ELC workforce becoming more gender balanced is part of promoting gender equality. The current expansion of funded ELC means that many more staff are needed, which provides an unprecedented opportunity. This resource is therefore intended to complement the Scottish Government’s ongoing activity to attract more males to join the workforce, supported by key partners such as Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council. The Scottish Government’s Equally Safe strategy, for the prevention and eradication of violence against women and girls, is also supported by this publication.

Gender equality has a high media profile and the public debate can often arouse strong emotions. This can mean that some ELC services are understandably nervous about their approach to gender equality and avoiding negative stereotyping. The resource therefore offers practical and helpful tips on how to promote gender equality in an accessible and non-threatening way. As well as sharing practice examples of what has worked well in a range of different settings, we also advise on other practice resources available to services, such as children’s books, toys and activities, training and further reading.

In 2013 Zero Tolerance published ‘Just like a child’, a guide for childcare professionals on respecting gender equality in the early years. In co-producing this resource we wanted to not only provide an update to ‘Just like a child’, but also to highlight a range of practice examples narrated by practitioners. This adopts a similar format to other Care Inspectorate publications intended to encourage improvement across all ELC provision, such as ‘My World Outdoors’ and ‘Our Creative Journey’. In common with these other publications, for each practice example the relevant Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) wellbeing indicators are referenced.

Picture books

Picture books are a powerful tool for helping very young children make sense of the world. What children see in picture books, and the ideas that they take on board from the books they read can shape their view of the world for years to come. It is therefore very important that gender roles in picture books are not stereotyped or prescriptive. Children should have opportunities to see all girls and boys as bold, and brave and caring, sensitive, active or independent. By showing them that there are no limits on gender, we give children the freedom to be who they want to be from a very young age.

Here is a selection of wonderful picture books that challenge gender stereotypes and the roles of men and women in society.

• How to be a Lion by Ed Vere
• Clive and his Babies by Jessica Spanyol
• Rosa loves Cars by Jessica Spanyol
• Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
• Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton and Dougal MacPherson
• I’m a Girl! by Yasmeen Ismail
• Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty
• Baking with Dad by Aurora Cacciapuoti
• Tough Guys have Feelings Too by Keith Negley
• Flip and Find Builders by Samantha Meredith

Other useful information

Improving Gender Balance and Equalities team at Education Scotland


Education Scotland's team of Improving Gender Balance and Equalities (IGBE) officers are working with early learning and childcare settings, primary schools and secondary schools to explore and assess interventions to address gender imbalances in participation, curricular preferences and learner pathways at every stage (3 - 18 years). 


The approach is a whole-establishment one, tackling the root causes of gender imbalances, including addressing gender stereotyping and unconscious bias, in a sustained and embedded way.


The team are working regionally and are keen to make links locally. View this flyer and get in touch using the contact details provided if you would like to know more about the programme. 

Health and Social Care Standards

The Health and Social Care Standards set out what we should expect when using health, social care or social work services in Scotland

Starting your improvement journey

An introduction to improvement theory and how to achieve positive change

Playgroups and Nurseries

Daycare provided for infants and toddlers, pre-schoolers and school-aged children in a centre-based facility, such as a nursery, playgroup or afterschool club

Related Policy

Browse related policy developments

Latest Children and Young People Bulletin

A weekly bulletin produced by our policy team providing an update on the key developments concerning children and young people

Children and Young People Bulletin: 6 - 12 February 2020

Children and Young People Bulletin: 6 - 12 February 2020

Children and Young People Bulletin: 6 - 12 February 2020

My World Outdoors

A practice resource highlighting the benefits of outdoor play for children attending early learning and childcare

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Our Creative Journey

A resource featuring good and innovative practice examples of expressive arts in early learning and childcare

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