It’s been about a month since my time started here at the preschool and I can honestly say it’s quickly becoming a second home. I even received an “I love you,” today from one of the kiddos! It’s a wonderfully heartfelt and passionate group of kids and I feel as though they help me learn more about myself everyday. I wanted to take some time and highlight in this blog post my personal thoughts and feelings on the gender bias I’ve not only noticed in myself but often in the behaviors of the children at the school.
As I walked into the preschool to start off the day, I was greeted by the normal “Steve’s here!” I always smile at everyone and wish them all a good morning as I head to the kitchen to put my lunch in the fridge. I happened to be carrying a banana one morning and overheard one (male) child say, “Steve! Bananas are only for girls! Eww!” Now in the past, I would have let this comment brush over my shoulder, because obviously that comment isn’t true and he was probably just trying to be funny to his classmates. Unbeknownst to him, I had recently learned through a training with my AmeriCorps cohort, that racism and sexism is a systemic problem in the USA mainly because it goes about unchecked by friends, family, and those in role model positions. As an educator, I couldn’t let these comments slide anymore. I gently approached the child and very matter of factually stated, “I just wanted you to know, that bananas can be eaten by anybody, whether you’re a boy or a girl.” Unexpectedly, there was little reaction from the child, but it’s moments like these that we miss, or simply choose not to engage in, all too often. Moments like these build upon each other and taking 10 seconds to correct an out-of-place exclamation, comment, or joke can be vital in who these kids become as they mature into adulthood. One of my duties as an educator is to provide, establish, and reinforce building blocks for these children to lean on to become healthy functioning people in society. Of course, this one moment in itself probably won’t change the course of this child’s life, but it’s certainly a block they can use as they build their “life’s tower.”
It’s important to me to make sure every child feels empowered to fulfill their dreams and not feel limited to anything because of their gender. For example, I want girls to feel strong and boys to learn gentleness because a capable, resilient, and loving human knows how to be both strong and gentle at the correct times. When a child trips, falls, and begins to cry I always tell them to pick themselves up (unless it’s a serious injury, of course), because it instills an inner strength within them. Once they’re up, I always offer a hug and any comfort them may need, tell them, “You’re strong” and “You’re alright,” to reassure them, then send them about their way. Learning how to pick themselves up when they’re down is just as an invaluable skill as learning how to be gentle with words and actions. I enjoy working with the students by providing reminders of what gentle play looks like and also talking about how our words can also have an impact on our friends.