Through some open conversations we learned that a lot of gender roles were ingrained in our children at such an early age. It is a complicated issues, but our goal was to explore it a bit deeper with our children.
We hope that through our exploration the children will build a sense of acceptance and flexibility in their thinking. Ultimately, we know that at 4 and 5 years old if we can work together to build a culture that respects one another regardless of their differences...what a better society we will have.
We have learned so far that the children are the best teachers in this topic. We have learned that literacy helps to tell others stories and helps the children to gain perspective. Often children are not exposed to different ways of thinking...
Our first discussions around gender came up during our community time. One student shared that boys and girls should get different types of Valentine's Day cards. We asked the children, "are there different types of toys for boys and girls?". Immediately the division came with superheroes and barbies.
Interestingly, one of our boys shared that it was ok for boys to have barbies and that he likes to play with them. Another student pointed out that boys play with dolls in dramatic play. We wondered if girls could like superheroes? One boy said "Yes they can, there is even Batgirl".
A few days later, one of our girls was talking about her dance class. We had a great conversation about how there were boys in her class and that lots of boys liked to dance. We read "Oliver Button is a Sissy" and had conversations about how Oliver may feel when others tell him what he should or should not do. We had a conversation about emotions and facial features. The children talked about "I" messages and how we can stand up for ourselves with our words.
I had this beautiful book sitting in the basket beside our desk:
When the topic of gender came up, our Student Work Study teacher and amazing librarian thought of it - and even ordered it in from another school for us to use.
Today, a little boy in our room drew a picture of his family with me. He said "Ms Pickard, I love to wear dresses with my family at home. I like to twirl around because the dress flows". He is the same student that daily puts on a dress in the dramatic play area. He loves the sparkles and enjoys wearing different sequined dresses.
I was excited to match this genuine conversation with a book that truly highlights gender issues, acceptance and respect. I love this book, it is beautiful.
While reading it, I was so proud of our class and the maturity that was coming through in their responses.
"When I wrote a letter to Santa, I used pink. He wrote me back and said that he likes that colour too"
"Some boys may like to wear dresses because they look nice."
In the story there is a part that talks about people looking at him funny because he wanted to buy a sparkly bag...
Ms Pickard: Why do you think people were looking at Princess Boy funny?
"Maybe because they don't know that boys can like to dress up like girls. Maybe they don't think it is ok, but it is"
"I think it is because boys like boys clothes and girls like girl clothes, but it doesn't matter really"
"If they really like dresses they can wear them"
"On Halloween, my brother dressed up as a girl and that's ok. No one even laughed at him."
"I wore a bunny outfit on Hallowe'en that is for boys or girls"
"Some girls might want to be spiderman or batman on Hallowe'en"
In such a short exploration of gender, the children have already begun to shift their thinking and actions. We have noticed less comments on the colours the children are choosing to wear, more acceptance when the boys want to dress up in dramatic play, and a heightened awareness in play.
Exploring social issues with children in a way that allows them to express their thinking and challenge their thinking is crucial. Many would be afraid to explore issues at this young of an age, but when is the best time?
After reading the story, the children were fascinated that the characters in the story didn't have faces. "I wonder if the illustrated ran out of paint?". We had a discussion about facial features and wondered if we could tell if someone was a boy or girl if we just looked at their face without hair? We talked a bit about babies and how when they are tiny many people can't tell if they are a girl or a boy when looking at their faces.
Looking forward to where our conversations go next...these children never cease to amaze, impress and inspire me on a daily basis. Kindergarten truly is a magical place!