Gender and technology in free play in Swedish early childhood education.

Hallström, J.
Elvstrand, H.
Hellberg, K.
International journal of technology and design education 25(2),137-149.


The purpose of this study is to examine how girls and boys explore and learn about technology. In this study, technology means building constructions using building blocks or making road networks in the sandbox. In addition to exploring how girls and boys approach technology, the authors examine how preschool teachers at two preschools interact with the children during free play with technology content, e.g. when the children attempt to build a hut inside the preschool. Finally, the study aims to generate knowledge about preschool staff's perceptions of gender and the role that gender plays with regard to influencing children's approach to technology.


According to the authors, the study indicates that the children's choice of play and toys reflects traditional gender stereotypes. For example, boys are more likely to play with 'typical boy toys', i.e. cars, cranes, etc. The gender differences in the children's play are much more pronounced among the oldest children aged 5-6 years, who are more likely to organise themselves into groups of boys and groups of girls than the younger children, and they engage in what the author refers to as 'boy play and girl play'. Moreover, the authors describe how girls and boys approach and deal with technology in different ways. More often girls have a special purpose when they use technology. For example, they build things they need in their play, i.e. construction and technology are primarily a sideline activity. The boys, on the other hand, more often award technology a central part in their play, in which building is an end in itself.

When it comes to the staff's perceptions of gender and technology, the study paints a conflicting picture. Some staff members state that they do not see any differences between how boys and girls use technology in their play, whereas others state that they do see a difference between what boys play with and what girls play with, and how they play. These statements present a picture that technology is more easily linked to boys' play, whereas there seem to be fewer activities with technology content available to girls.

The authors identify two ways in which the staff interacts with the children in free play with technology content: active interaction or passive interaction. On the basis of video footage, free play with technology often seems to take place without the involvement of adults. Children play individually or work together on resolving different problems and on developing ideas. When the staff actively join and support the children in technology play, the authors assess that there is a greater potential for learning than when the children play on their own. To the extent that the staff supports the children's technology play, the study shows that the staff acts differently depending on whether the situation involves boys or girls. Similarly, the staff is not so active in supporting free play involving technology among the older children, and children who do not themselves seek out technology play are not encouraged to engage in this type of play. Finally, the authors stress that the staff is not very active in giving boys and girls equal opportunities to explore and use materials and toys that are not gender-stereotyped.

The final conclusion of the study is that when technology appears in a gendered preschool setting, it contributes to confirming stereotyped boundaries between genders. In this connection, the authors stress the importance of providing ECEC staff with a deeper understanding of gender and technology and of the ways in which ECEC centres can create equal opportunities for boys and girls to explore technology.


The study is based on qualitative data consisting of video footage of selected situations in two preschools (förskola), informal conversations with staff and children as well as field notes. The video footage focuses on children's free play with technology indoors as well as outdoors, and covers individual as well as collective activities. Children aged 3-6 years were primarily observed. The two selected preschools have children aged 1-6 years and are located in a large municipality in southern Sweden. The municipality has chosen science and technology as a key development area in all preschool settings. One of the preschools has a total of 120 children divided into three departments. This preschool is in the start-up phase of a project about technology in everyday activities. One employee is responsible for working with technology with the children. This employee is also responsible for increasing the other staff’s knowledge of about this area. The other preschool has about 45 children divided into two departments. At this preschool, the staff is generally responsible for working with technology in accordance with the guidelines from the municipality and with the Swedish Curriculum for the Preschool.



Hallström, J., Elvstrand, H. & Hellberg, K. (2015). Gender and technology in free play in Swedish early childhood education. International journal of technology and design education 25(2),137-149.

Financed by

The study was financed by the Swedish National Agency for Education and the Centre for School Technology Education (CETIS).