When Miss Jay first appeared for Storytime at The Harbour during Pride Month, wearing a flamboyant purple and orange dress, complete with sequins and ruffles, the children were enraptured.

Miss Jay is now a regular at The Harbour’s storytime sessions, which are open to all ages and families and the children couldn’t be happier:

“I do love the dancing!”


“I like singing with Miss Jay.”

“Miss Jay made me excited.”


The storytime sessions are the brainchild of Education Leader Sam Fernandez who wanted to celebrate Gowrie’s philosophy of inclusion and equity.

“We have Pride flags in the rooms and inclusive Pride posters around the service. It’s having that clear, strong message that we’re inclusive as a whole,” Sam says. “The way we approach our programming is in same vein – we steer clear of any outdated gendered language, such as ‘good girl’ or ‘good boy’.”

After the success of the first storytime, the team at The Harbour decided to grasp the opportunity and develop a program for Miss Jay. “Miss Jay will visit for regular storytime sessions but will also be exploring the concept of self with the children – that who you are is enough.”

Sam says the sessions are a clear demonstration that “we’re not just saying we welcome everyone, we’re actively making that part of our program”.

Safe spaces

Carlton North and CLP manager Alistair Gibbs a board member of the Social Justice and Early Childhood Foundation and a consultant in anti-bias education says Gowrie has a strong reputation as a safe space for diverse families.

“We have quite a few same-sex families at our services and that openness and visibility makes people feel safe and accepted,” Alistair says.

When it comes to exploring gender diversity in early childhood, Alistair says it’s about honest conversations and challenging gender stereotypes. “We will often hear comments around gendered language, whether something is for boys or girls, but our educators will challenge that,” he says. “It’s not about saying they’re right or wrong, it’s about asking why and considering how someone might feel when they’re told that.”

The key is to explore these concepts when they come up in conversation, rather than shutting them down. “It’s asking the powerful questions to understand their thinking,” Alistair says. “And this is done through connection with empathy.”

Alistair says discussions about feeling safe in who you are is part of Gowrie’s framework and one that is examined in one-on-one situations and in larger group discussions. “Children explore identity naturally, through dress-ups, their play and through the books they’re reading,” he says. “It’s not shining a spotlight on the difference, it’s normalising it.”

Families with further questions about their child’s exploration of identity also feel safe in approaching educators, who are able to provide support, resources and access to allied health professionals.

Being brave

Engaging in the tough conversations is a critical part of ensuring anti-bias principles are embedded in daily practice. “When these challenges arise, we don’t back away,” Alistair says. “We are here to support children in their journeys, and we need to be brave in these conversations because we can’t give mixed messages to families and children.”

This openness begins before enrolment, ensuring all families considering Gowrie are aware that the service will explore anti-bias principles, gender and sexuality, and consent.

Alistair says the four core goals of anti-bias principles – identity, diversity, justice and activism – are at the forefront of Gowrie’s framework. “This is embedded through all of our programs because it needs to start in early childhood, to ensure this society we’re creating is more socially just in the future. And at Gowrie, this is non-negotiable.”


Picture books that challenge gender stereotypes, reflect diverse family structures and boost LGBTQI inclusion are essential resources in early childhood settings.

We asked the team at Kids’ Book Review to recommend their top picture books for making bookshelves more inclusive. Read the reviews and discover more titles at www.kids-bookreview.com.

  1. Be Exactly Who You Are
  2. My Shadow is Pink
  3. Enough Love
  4. Julian is a Mermaid
  5. Hugo
  6. Who’s Your Real Mum?
  7. Twas The Night Before Pride
  8. Auntie Uncle Drag Queen Hero
  9. Introducing Teddy
  10. Want to Play Trucks?
  11. Love Makes a Family
  12. Worm Loves Worm