This dissertation presents an exploratory multiple case study conducted in a preschool center in the north-eastern part of Puerto Rico. The study explores in what ways four-year-old children’s gender roles become apparent through play episodes, focusing on the following research questions: (1) What expressions of gender roles expectations are reflected in children’s play? (2) How does culture influence or impact the gender roles decisions made through play? (3) What are the boys’ and girls’ preferred activities and toys during play? (4) How do parents perceive the culture (home, Puerto Rican, family, etc.) in their children’s play? (5) How does the teacher see the culture (home, Puerto Rican, family, etc.) in her student’s play?
Play and gender roles are my basic concerns and interests in the ECE field. Sadly, research in Puerto Rico about gender roles, play, and early childhood is practically non-existent (Canales Guzman, 2008). The rationale behind this study is to contribute to this new field by making an impact on parents, teachers, principals, and others in the education of our children, in relation to create awareness in equity and social justice.
This multiple case study was carried out in one classroom of a preschool center in Carolina, Puerto Rico. After observing and interacting with the whole group during approximately two months, I chose the two boys and two girls using two different criteria. First, I wanted to have as my cases the boys and girls who represented the rest of the group in most ways. Second, I wanted children that are leaders, those that call your attention immediately when entering the classroom.
Data pertaining to children were obtained by three methods: direct observation of play episodes dynamics, structured task activities, and a focus group. All of these methods were directed toward describing children’s behaviors and beliefs regarding gender-norms in the Puerto Rican culture and how their beliefs expressed on the tasks and in the focus groups are related to their social interaction and symbolic and object actions in play episodes.
Secondly, the study focused on the voices of the parents and the teacher. This study investigated the four children’s parents’ and their teacher’s understanding and ideas about gender roles at home and school. These data were compared with the data obtained from children.
Discussion and interpretation of the findings was guided by Rogoff’s cultural historical theory, Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological model, and Super and Harkness developmental niche framework.
The study generated evidence helpful in answering the five research questions. Gender role socialization among children in a Puerto Rican preschool center, specially seen in the dramatic play, seems largely determined by traditional stereotyped gender roles. However, there were also some indications in parents and teacher interview of tension, conflict, and change suggesting a culture in transition.
An implication of this study is that it is our responsibility to work with children during the early years and use educational arrangement and play to foster gender equity in society.
The biggest contribution to the ECE field is to explore what is going on in our own Puerto Rican culture to start creating awareness between our educators and parents about how to create opportunities that promote and encourage equity and social justice.