The development of sexuality in childhood in early learning settings: An exploration of Ontario Early Childhood Educators’ perceptions

Balter, Alice-Simone
van Rhijn, Tricia
Davies, Adam
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Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

This study explored Ontario Early Childhood Educators’ (ECEs) experiences and perceptions about the development of sexuality during early childhood. Sixty-four educators completed an online survey with a mix of open and closed-ended questions; quantitative data were used to provide descriptive statistics and qualitative data were interpreted using thematic analysis. The findings underscore that ECEs observe typical sexual behaviours during their everyday context. These behaviours include self-touching, those occurring during bathroom routines and play-time, and behaviours influenced from family experiences. Varying perspectives about the purpose of sexual health education in early childhood emerged; ECEs suggested that knowledge of self, families, and being able to answer children’s questions should be key areas on which to focus. Early Childhood Educators also discussed concerns regarding addressing childhood sexual development. Primary concerns included parental involvement, questioning the appropriateness of sexuality education in early childhood, and the need for more training. Many factors affected ECEs willingness to address the development of sexuality in their practice. When asked about workplace policies that could provide guidance, one-third of ECEs did not know if a policy existed, and a further 54% stated their workplace had no policy. These findings contribute new data on ECE perceptions about preschool sexuality education in a Canadian context. The development of curriculum and policy are suggested as ways to provide systematic guidance and protocols regarding sexual and gender development. Additional training in the area of childhood sexual development is suggested to increase ECEs’ knowledge and skills in guiding healthy development.

Sexual development, Child development, Early childhood education, Early learning, Canada