2.5 Both women and men are parents
In the call to raise standards, there have been growing expectations from government that parents should actively support children's early and school learning, over and above what they might normally do with their children. The term 'parents' includes mothers and fathers. However, women mainly take the lead in childcare and interactions with early years and primary settings.
In recent times, men have become more involved in childcare – both as fathers taking responsibility for children at home, and also as parents maintaining contact with early years settings. In 1997, Penn and McQuail regarded childcare as 'a deeply gendered field' (1997, p. 39). We only have to observe young children being taken to and collected from an early years setting to see that, the long-established division of labour between men and women still exists in most families.
There is a sense, however, in which many fathers are hidden from your view as a practitioner. Fathers may support their children's learning at home, and communicate their feelings and wishes through their partners. Nevertheless, it seems that parental partnership in children's early education is largely something that happens between women (as practitioners) and women (as parents).
Recognising this imbalance, some early years settings have taken steps to encourage a more equal sharing of family responsibilities between men and women. For instance, Ghedini et al. (1995) wrote of a cross-national project between the Pen Green Centre in Corby, England, and the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. The project explored gender roles in families and early years settings, and set about encouraging increased participation of fathers in the care of their children. At Pen Green, for example, the centre's environment was made more ‘men friendly’ by:
displaying photos of children with their fathers;
preparing a video to help examine how staff greet mothers and fathers;
visiting fathers in their own homes, discussing their involvement and how they would like to use the centre;
writing specifically to fathers, and inviting them to attend meetings and events;
establishing a men's group led by a male centre worker;
advertising specifically for male workers.
Activity 3 Encouraging fathers to participate
Consider the extent to which fathers are involved in the care and education that you provide for children. Write down your responses in your notebook.
It seems desirable that early years practitioners take steps to increase fathers' involvement in services for young children. However, you should be aware of the difficulties that may be encountered. Penn and McQuail (1997) found that some women support the gender stereotypes underpinning childcare in the home and the workplace – for instance, seeing that caring for children was fundamentally ‘natural’ for women yet‘unnatural’ for men. Practitioners who seek to influence, and perhaps change, established family and cultural gender responsibilities in the areas of childcare and parental contact with early years settings should proceed cautiously and sensitively.