In July the Saplings led us into uncharted waters. They were working to construct their understandings of power, gender, and identity, which we could see clearly in their independent dramatic play. Most of their play revolved around princesses and superheroes and when it didn't, the care-taking and powerful roles were still quite present, such as in predator/prey games. We heard the children saying things like, "You can't be strong because you're just a princess!", and "The boys won't let me play with them because I'm Super-girl not Batman!", and "Only beautiful people can come in here and you're not beautiful because you're a boy!"
We decided to listen. The Saplings teachers also thought this would be a great opportunity to further explore the anti-bias goals that have been an underlying piece of our curriculum throughout the year. We contemplated the goals related to gender written in Anti-Bias Education, and thought of open-ended activities that would allow the children to explore their ideas more deeply. We anchored ourselves in the following goals:
- Children, regardless of gender, will participate in a wide range of activities necessary for their full cognitive and social-emotional development.
- Children will demonstrate positive feelings about their gender identity...
- Children will talk about show respect for the great diversity in appearance, emotional expressiveness, behavior, and gender roles for both boys and girls.
- Children will recognize unfair or untrue messages (including invisibility) about gender roles.
- Children will practice skills for supporting gender role diversity in their interactions with peers.
What followed has been an exhilarating and thought provoking exploration of identity. Children and teachers alike have been challenged to listen to each other, think about our biases, and find ways to challenge ourselves to grow. We will be continuing our Princesses and Superheroes work through August, and hope to end the unit with costume party or parade to help make the children's work even more tangible.