Hair straighteners in the home corner. Is this what Froebel intended?

In the course of my work I am often in a wide variety of early learning care and education services and I am generally in awe of the ways that Educators reflect in their curriculum designs, many of the founding theories and tenets that we hold to be true and are still reflected in contemporary practice everyday.

Recently however I have had my own biases about what constitutes enriching learning environments challenged by the addition of hair straighteners into the dramatic play environment, which I have now observed on three different occasions. Is this what Fredrick Froebel, the founder of the Kindergarten, intended when he encouraged Educators to use real and authentic tools?

Early learning environments are reflective of philosophies, values and beliefs and these ultimately convey key messages to children and families. So what messages to the inclusion of these types of props into dramatic play spaces give?

In the book Progressive Kindergarten Methods by Mary Lush, published in 1926 she states:

“Real experiences are the subject matter of the Kindergarten curriculum. The teacher must select experiences which are worth while in making life richer here and now, and which lead somewhere” (Lush, 1926, p 9).    

So if we knew this in 1926 what are we doing now?

I have been thinking a lot lately about the “hidden curriculum” that are present in many of the curriculum decisions we make in our early learning settings every day, and the covert messages they give to children. If we are to think of the early learning environment as the third teacher, what is it that we are expecting young children to learn from the addition of such props? Are they different to hair dryers? (which have regular appearances in dramatic play spaces across the country).

I recently had a conversation with a colleague and asked her this question. She stated that they are different as one has the function of drying wet hair and the other is used for cosmetic purposes. She went on to add, that if she were honest she didn’t support the wide proliferation of “hairdressing” as a construct in the dramatic play environment either, as in her experience props were generally of poor quality, having been brought in from home after use, and the play did not provide children with multiple modes of engagement. Makes you think! Are we heading towards plastic surgery corner?

A Froebelian approach offers children a wide variety of genuine and relevant experiences and authentic tools, and while these items may be present in children’s homes I am not convinced that hair straighteners and the like, meet the purpose that Froebel intended, essentially that the early learning experiences as a whole, not isolated skills and tools, resulted in the creation of inquisitive children who had dispositions of curiosity, respect and wonder.

My concern centers largely around dominant gender norms being reinforced and the inclusion of such props should raise equity alerts. These norms can be powerful and Educators need to do more than model equitable gender behaviors they must also present curriculum materials that provide positive and alternate messages. Elliot said that:

“In order to provide positive role models for young children we must be seen by children as performing a wide variety of roles… Always be cautious when choosing curriculum materials to ensure they depict an approximately equal quantitative   representation of male and female characters” (Elliot, 1984, pp20-21)

Hair straighteners change how you look. They make curly hair straight. By the inclusion of these types of props into children’s learning spaces are we not saying “You should change how you look?” and is this type of play and our intent behind it any different to children putting on a cape and mask and equally being transformative?

The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) describes environments that support learning as:

“vibrant and flexible spaces that are responsive to the interests and abilities of each child. They cater for different capacities and learning styles and invite children and families to contribute ideas, interests and questions.  Materials enhance learning when they reflect what is naturel and familiar and also introduce novelty to provoke interest and more complex and increasingly abstract thinking” (EYLF, 2012, pp. 15 & 16)

Consideration given to providing children with rich, relevant and purposeful tools and materials ultimately creates a community of learners who can engage with experiences in multiple ways. We cannot underestimate the value of aesthetics and creative engaging learning environments on the developing child.

We need no further evidence to support this contention than to consider Frank Lloyd Wright, the prolific American architect who designed more than 1.000 structures. Wright believed in designing buildings that were in harmony with humanity and the environment. Lloyd Wright developed an early interest in architecture after his mother purchased him a set of Froebel Kindergarten blocks. Frank would later say about these blocks:

“The maple wood blocks are in my fingers to this day! That early kindergarten experience with the straight line, the flat plane; the square; the triangle; the circle! If I wanted more, the square modified by the triangle gave the hexagon; the circle modified by the straight line would give the octagon” (www.froebelweb.org)

When children are offered on a daily basis, beautiful, authentic and open-ended materials you are providing them with powerful opportunities to support and extend their learning and development. But more importantly, by giving careful consideration to the types of learning spaces you create and the materials you place within them you are saying to children  – This place matters!

REFERENCES

Elliot, A. (1984) Creating non-sexist day care environments, Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 9 (2): 18-23

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). (2009). Belonging. Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework.

Lush, Mary. (1926) Progressive Kindergarten Methods. Taylor and Son, Manton Lane Melbourne

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Karen Hope

Karen is an early childhood consultant, academic and freelance writer who has had extensive experience in a broad range of services within the early childhood care and education setting. Beginning her career as an Early Childhood Educator, Karen has worked in sessional Kindergarten programs and Long Day Care programs. Karen has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education and a Masters in Education. Karen established Karen Hope Consulting in 2014. This consultancy practice specialises in professional development training and coaching to the early childhood education and care sector. She aims to provide services with a 'disruptive' approach to professional development that aims to challenge the dominant discourse. Karen also works in the higher education sector and is a senior lecturer in play theory and pedagogical documentation in the Bachelor of Early Years. Karen has a strong interest in the delivery of pre-service teacher training and is skilled in delivering innovative and flexible learning resources. Karen has had worked published in Every Child magazine and The Challenge -The Reggio Emilia Australia Information Exchange Journal. Karen is also a regular contributor to The Spoke, Early Childhood Australia's Blog and Early Talk, Early Learning Australia's Blog. Karen's consultancy practice and writing is strongly influenced by the Reggio Emilia project. She can be contacted on karenhopeconsulting@gmail.com.

13 thoughts on “Hair straighteners in the home corner. Is this what Froebel intended?”

    Sharon says:

    Great article – at first I thought, “What’s the harm in having straighteners? My daughter watches me use mine every day and then loves playing with her own pretend set – why not have this at child care also?” but your article makes some great points about the messages these items can unintentionally send to our children. Will definitely keep this in mind for my ECEC practices. Thank you!

    Selma Wastaell says:

    I completely get where this article is coming from and my heart agrees with it all, but my intellect tells me that we are forcing our 1980’s idea of what it means to be a woman onto the children of today. Hair straighteners in not way contradict this quote cited in the article: “vibrant and flexible spaces that are responsive to the interests and abilities of each child. They cater for different capacities and learning styles and invite children and families to contribute ideas, interests and questions. Materials enhance learning when they reflect what is naturel and familiar and also introduce novelty to provoke interest and more complex and increasingly abstract thinking” (EYLF, 2012, pp. 15 & 16). I think educators would be quietly pleased with their provisions if it were the boys engaging with the straightening tongs. Are hairclips and ribbons OK? Where is the line? I think it’s all about the conversations that we have with children around gender specific play that is important and hair straighteners could be a stimulus to begin that conversation.

    Summer says:

    I believe the main reason for straighteners in the home corner is part of dramatic role play children are find of. I don’t believe for a second that including hair straighteners is provoking messages regarding change of appearance, rather, it is part of ‘hairdresser’s kit in children’s role playing- adding value to the child led/child initiated experiences

    Simon.F says:

    What a great thought provoking piece of writing Karen. It gives me hope, hope that there are academics in society who think critically in relation to what messages we may be sending our children. The frameworks are prescriptive and ask us to elevate our way of thinking, to challenge the status quo and to constantly be looking at every experience through the child’s lens for the betterment of education and care. Karen you have hit the nail on the head with this one..

    We as ECE need to take accountability for the experiences we arrange for children, ensuring that they are holistic and genuine, such exp. should reflect the importance of children developing secure identities that are free for media influence.

    Realistically, it is inevitable that children are exposed to such real life accessories, our emphasis should be on allowing children the time and space within a educational context to escape these influences and to wholeheartedly immerse themselves in play and leave all the rubbish at the door.

    Thank you Karen for stepping outside the box and sharing your thoughts. I have no doubt we are to expect more provocative pieces in future 🙂

    Sandi says:

    I loved this article. It really has my brain doing somersaults over what it thinks about this.

    I still don’t have a clear idea as I continue to type, but what I am processing is that you’ve done one fabulous thing here: you’ve sparked a new attitude and honesty in how I wish to agree with you but disagree with you at the same time.

    I agree that the prop of a hair straightener may “seem” like a naïve piece of equipment to host in the home corner, in this day and age, but why is that so?

    It is a tool, just like a drill, or a hammer or a spade. Why have we put a vain emphasis on a hair straightener and not a wooden spoon?

    I’m so glad you brought this up, because you’ve just directed my attention to the fact that there are only floral aprons in our home corner at preschool. Isn’t that figuratively suggesting that a woman’s place is in the kitchen? Where are the non floral aprons?
    I think its great that we critically evaluate what we set to achieve as Early Childhood Educators in our settings, but are we over doing it sometimes too?

    If it’s child focused and driven like it should be, and the children are mimicking an action that they have witnessed in their world, then so be it. It is a part of their world.

    I started my diploma with the premise that I would nurture and support the development of children during their early years of life. The use of a hair straightener requires fine motor skills and provides an experience for children to make sense of their world.

    I feel the pressure to get it perfect in this industry is much greater than a child’s desire for her hair to be perfect at age 3-5.

    Just remember, it takes a village to raise a child … not just the preschool room, with the hair straightener in the home corner.

    Karen Hope says:

    Hi Sandi,

    Thanks for your feedback on my piece. I am happy to hear that you want to agree but disagree with me at the same time! It’s that critical reflection on practice and why we do what we do, that is so important and it is imperative that we continue to challenge our thinking. From that kind of provocation come robust curriculum decisions.

    Since I wrote that piece I have seen a “nail bar” in an early learning centre, so perhaps hair straighteners are the least of our worries!

    Karen Hope

    Ainsley says:

    Oh my I totally agree! As I was reading this article I was thinking all those points u just made, & thinking its a job for some people like myself! just like building, & cooking & I’m more for teaching our kids they can do & be anything the wish to be in life! No matter what sex! & just letting them experience all the different jobs in life, My daughter watches me day in & day out making a living with a hair straightener!

    Anne Kennedy says:

    Karen, your reflection reminded me of what Dewey said to educators way back in the early 20th century—educators have to decide ‘where to fix children’s gaze’ or in other words educators are expected to make decisions every day about whether something is worth children knowing or doing or not?

    Sasha Johnston says:

    I think it is time we take off our ‘adult glasses’ and appreciate items (including the hair straightener in question) for what they mean to our children, not what they have come to mean to us as adults. A hair straightener, in actuality, is a pair of tongs that you can press hair (or anything else!) between. In theory, they can also produce heat. 
    To a child, they are not the symbol of vanity, gender roles and, perhaps, insecurity that we have come view them as. A hair straightener is no less capable of inspiring creative, open-ended enquiry than any other object. 
    The role some people are assuming it plays as a gender-specific and appearance focussed object, with only one purpose, is a socially constructed one. 
    The young children in our services have (hopefully) not yet internalised negative ideas surrounding gender roles, sexism, the objectification of people’s bodies, the need to ‘impress’ anyone with their looks, or the idea that their appearance should fit society’s ‘norms’. 
    As educators, we are hoping to help raise a generation that is more progressive than our own when it comes to gender equality, so let us not project our own attitudes towards objects onto them, or their play. I hope that the children I care for will live in a world where everyone is free to express themselves through their physical appearance with no fear of judgement, no matter what their gender. 
    So by all means, bring out the hair straighteners. Even the nail polish. They are all materials that can encourage positive discussions around some of the above issues and, more importantly, hours of open, imaginative play.

    Martina Riding says:

    I would have never dreamed of an hair straightener or nail vanish being in a Kindergarten as educational resource. I was brought up in a Froebel Kindergarten in Germany, I do remember well the wooden blocks, the hammer game the rich outdoor play but also the physical education in sports hall were we also had our sleep/rest, we used for indoor physical education wearing little black gym outfits and soft shoes to do so. I use a lot of the ideas from the websites Natural Play and Walker Learning. I find a holistic approach is far more engaging then just putting some toys out. I am a strong believer in playing with the children not sitting at the site watching them. Games of different kind are needed in Kindergarten’s to just bring these children back to basic learning skills for live not skills for trend and fashion. Just keep it basic look around what you got, enjoy the findings in the store room fare back on the shelf. Love the article. Martina

    Bemused says:

    Same goes for hair curlers Karen. These are also a popular addition to many dramatic play areas!
    Love this piece ❤️

    Chris Cook says:

    If we see, that in today’s era that an egg beater is a useful gender neutral tool for home corner, then what is the problem with a hair straightener or a nail bar. Look around, young adults of both sexes use both. Also don’t forget we are meant to be inclusive of transgender. If we are providing hammers for building then why not tools that are used in the beauty industry. The world which our young ones will grow up in is so very different from what we and the theorists have experienced. Take the trucks out of the sand pit because robots will be driving them in the future, take away the little kitchens because in the future especially in cities, more people will probably eat out and never cook. As for floral aprons, who decided they were for girls and we need non floral aprons to be inclusive? It is not up to us as educators to decide what we want children to learn and when. It is up to us to provide as many experiences as possible and as required for children to grow up into happy, resilient, curios, enthusiast adults whether they be boy, girl or no fixed gender with painted nails.

    Sasha says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Why exclude possibilities based on our own biases!

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