I’m always open to letting the students experiment with whatever they want to in my classroom. But, then I notice that some of the 4-year-old girls would say things like.” You can’t put that on, you are a boy.” or things like,” John is a boy because he’s wearing a green mask, but Steven is a girl because he has on a pink mask.(giggles)
Everything was beginning to be about boys and girls. And it seemed like none of the boys could enjoy themselves because each time they wanted to join in on the girls’ games, the girls would not allow them to play because the games or items were for “girls only,” based on their perceptions.”
The girls in my classroom are great at pretending, and they would have stories that were very exciting and detailed, and the boys wanted to join in– Only to be told they couldn’t.
So I began to tell them that the toys and the games in the classroom were for everyone, and everyone should have the opportunity to play with them. I told them that we were not doing “this is for boys, and that is for girls” behavior anymore.
It took a little while before it sunk in; I would still see the girls look up when one of the boys picked up a doll to play with or begin to put on one of the princess’ dresses. Instead of saying anything, they would giggle and say look at John, he has on a princess’ dress. The funny thing is, once John got a feel of all that lace, nylon and tulle, he realized that the dresses can be a little itchy and took it off. But the important thing is that he had the opportunity to feel how the dress felt and realized it wasn’t something he wanted to wear after all.
One day we had a free day, and I let the students watch television. When the commercials came on, the students begin to say “I want that, oh wow! I want that too.” On one commercial, some really cool cars came on the screen, one of the girls said, “I want that!” One of the boys was about to say something about it being for boys, to my surprise, the girls spoke up and said toys are for everyone. I think at that moment they got it.
I haven’t had any gender-related problems in my class since then; I believe that they understand the concept a little better now. Especially when the roles are switched, and the girls want to play with the cars and tracks, and the boys say “no those are for boys.”
It made me feel so good that the students opened up and tried to understand how it makes each other feel when they omit someone from a game based on their gender. They as children will never actually understand the effects of gender separation, but what we are doing now is a great start.