I am curious to know more about your system, e.g. why do you have gender divided school groups?
To promote equality in the classroom, we work with single-sex groups for the most significant part of the day and mixed settings the rest of the time. When the children are in single-sex groups, we work on liberating them from traditional gender roles and stereotypic behaviour. We want to make sure that both girls and boys get even attention and equal opportunities.
When the children are in mixed settings, we make sure the experience between the children is positive, that they collaborate in projects and show each other mutual respect. It is very important that they have a good time together, feeling equally strong and capable.
When the children are in single-sex settings, they do compensation work, which means we strengthen the gender in characteristics that respectively need working on and strengthening. We believe that the girls, generally, need more encouragement in speaking out, taking up space and standing by themselves. The boys, on the other hand, might need to be encouraged to express themselves, both about their emotions and also when they get into disagreements. The boys generally need to work on their social behaviours like connections with others and expression.
Having single sex groups is not an objective in itself, but a means to work towards equality.
Why are there no traditional toys in your nurseries?
We sometimes hear people wonder why we do not have traditional toys and whether we are just trying to be eccentric. Some even think we consider toys bad for children. Far from it. What we do like is to stretch the children‘s imagination by using open-ended materials. Wooden blocks e.g. can be used for almost anything. They can be a tea set, roads and cars, the solar system...whatever you want. A toy car is more or less a toy car, and a doll is a doll. It does not leave as much scope for the imagination even though roleplaying is wonderful and dolls and cars are fun.
What it boils down to is this. It is desirable for the children to play with different materials at school than the ones they have at home and open-ended materials enhance the children‘s creativity, collaboration, and it prompts original problem-solving. The material comes to life in the children‘s hands.
Could you explain to me why the Hjalli model is pro-school uniforms?
From the age of 6 months to 10 years old, the children at Hjalli nurseries and schools wear uniforms. We love it, and we will explain why.
We primarily look at our school uniforms as workwear. Our uniforms are comfortable to wear and easy to put on as they consist of sweatpants or cotton leggings and tee shirts, hoodies or fleece cardigans. The children and teachers do not have to worry about the clothes getting dirty, spilling paint or food on them, or playing outside. Even if the clothes do get stains that can‘t be properly removed, there are no worries as they are workwear.
When all the children are wearing the same uniforms, they belong to the same team. This gives them a strong sense of belonging. It also reduces the level of peer pressure to wear specific brands and fashion styles and of course, the socioeconomic distinction is removed, making the social infrastructure more balanced and equal. At last but not least, our school uniforms are gender-neutral to promote body confidence rather than fitting a certain gender stereotype.
There is also less friction and struggle when getting dressed in the morning, as the attire is already decided upon, and our parents love it.
One might argue that uniforms limit the children's expression. That is debatable, and some people feel strongly about that. We, on the other hand, believe that when the clothes are taken out of the equation, the children focus on their abilities, become stronger personalities and their individuality is enhanced. Vision, focus, integrity and courage are some of the traits of a good leader. It has little to do with what she/he wears, though there is nothing wrong with being a good dresser.
What does the word "hjalli" mean?
The word "hjalli" is an old Icelandic word and has been used in
different contexts throughout time. It is sometimes used metaphorically
when getting around a difficult obstacle in life. In some
circumstances it can mean to break taboos, sort of being a free
spirit. Hjalli also is connected to the women‘s jobs of old times,
when they used to dry the fish by hanging it up on wooden racks
that were called fiskihjallar.
What about children who don’t identify with their assigned gender?
First and foremost we want to mention that in our single sex groups, nothing is boyish or girlish anymore as they are not constantly seeing the opposite sex in different roles from their own (that can be so discouraging when it comes to trying out new things). Secondly; school uniforms are unisex and we have no traditional toys (which are always gender biased). In both groups they participate in the same activities, so somehow our carefully planned single-sex settings "de-gender" everything. Thirdly, in our experience, a child with "nonbinary" gender identity has simply made their own choice if they want to be in the all-girls' or all-boys' department.