I love all the responses to this topic! Instead of reiterating what's been said, I'll just add a couple of additional thoughts:With bathrooms comes discussions about genitals. It is extremely important, as educators, that we are using proper terminology for body parts (i.e. vulva and penis). I'd just like to throw out the suggestion that we incorporate the word "most" into these conversations (as in - "most girls have a vulva," and "most boys have a penis"). This sets the framework for later conversations and understanding about the vastly diverse world we live in.The importance of making sure we are conscious of gender issues at this age is because children are soaking it all in. We know that toddlers and preschoolers love to sort, to put things in categories. That's part of how they process the world around them. Gendering each other is simply another way that they categorize. So we'll hear, "You can't play with that! Dresses are for girls!" There are options for the directions adults can take at this point: "you're right, dresses are just for girls," or, "actually, anybody can wear anything, but let's explore this more..." and use it as an emergent project on different types of clothing (including kilts, togas, Lungis, etc.).Most experts agree that children have a pretty set view of their own gender by age 3. Then, until about 7, their views of what that gender means is pretty rigid. This is an important part of sexual development, which we too often - as early childhood educators - ignore. Usually this is due purely to our own discomfort with the topic, or unsure what we are and are not "allowed" to say. So it's good to research and learn about the stages of young children's sexual development, but in the mean time focus on creating an environment in which all children are welcome and equally able to explore materials and toys.
I would like to add one more thought to this excellent discussion. All children, all children (all!) are injured when we allow gender stereotyping to go unchallenged in our programs or, even more commonly, when we reinforce gender stereotyping. Children are growing up in a world of confusing and limiting idea about what it means to be a boy or to be a girl. (The biggest of which is the notion that these are fixed identities!)
The messages children hear and see, over and over, are both overt and covert. "Boys are competitive, destructive, not empathetic, don't cry, play rough, aren't artistic, are physically strong, are important, are loud, are fearless (or at least quickly overcome any fear they may experience), are physical problem solvers, think logically, etc. etc. etc." "Girls are helpful, are caregivers, are artistic, like words and books and art, get hurt easily (both physically and emotionally), whine, cry, are focused upon their appearance (including clothing, colors, hair styles, etc.), think creatively, are focused on relationships, etc. etc. etc."
Each of these assumptions about a child function to limit their development, closing down whole aspects of their personhood in ways that impact the rest of their lives. As children's advocates, it is our responsibility not to reinforce these limiting ideas and to find age-appropriate ways to contradict them and give children more options to be fully human rather than conforming to our society's limited ideas of being either "boy or girl".