It all started with our phonics lesson today – I stumbled upon a soapbox. I felt called to climb on top of it. Rest assured, it was a five-year-old appropriate soap box.
We began learning about the letter u. Our district purchased the Journey’s series and I incorporate the Alphafriends into our phonics lessons each week. Each Alphafriend has its own song and I try my best to make up dance moves to each one. They function as great cues for students when sounding out words or locating letters. Often, I can prompt with the Alphafriend and the student will point to it and its letter.
If you notice, I referred to the Alphafriends as it. While some are clearly supposed to be male or female, there are some characters that are not so clear. I have noticed this year, more than others, that knowing the gender of the character is important to the students.
When Umbie was introduced today, almost IMMEDIATELY, a child asked “Is Umbie a boy or a girl?” Another student started searching the words of the song looking for “he” or “she” – none. So she looked for “his” or “her” – none. This stumped the students. I couldn’t resist… I sat down with the students and asked “Why?” – why is it so important to know whether Umbie is a boy or a girl?
Well, this question had them silent. I could see the wheels turning in their heads. The little girl wasn’t sure how to answer or what to say. So, I gently probed again, “Why is it important to know whether Umbie is a boy or a girl?” With sweetness in her face, she finally said, “I don’t know.”
I asked, “Will Umbie’s song be different or less fun if Umbie is a boy or a girl?” All the little children said, “Noooooooo.”
I asked, “Will the letter u make a different sound if Umbie is a boy or a girl?” And all the little children said, “Noooooo.”
I finished by saying simply this, “Sometimes we like to know if someone is a boy or a girl. That is ok. But, it’s not important. I knew we would all have fun even before I knew who was a boy or a girl. Being kind is what is important.”
Cue music, I slipped off the soapbox and we went about our lesson.
So, what does this have to do with literacy? Besides the fact it happened during my phonics lesson? Well of course I”m going to give you some resources – picture books, et al, to discuss these issues with your own kiddos. The topic is deep and mature, but in my opinion, not to heavy for our smallest learners. Gender roles are brought up almost on a daily basis in the classroom. Boys are playing “too rough”. Girls are being “too bossy”. Johnny is wearing a pink shirt – pink is a girl color. Susie wants to play with the trucks but those toys are for boys. Blah blah blah… Use these small moments to bring to a child’s attention that there are no such thing (in my opinion) as boy toys or girl toys, boy colors or girl colors, etc. At least once a week, I see a story like this and my heart is broken. I strive to do what I can to create an environment in which my students feel safe – physically and emotionally – no matter what.
A simple way to do this is to read books where male/female characters don’t conform to stereotypical gender roles.
One of my favorite books to read is The Paperbag Princess by Robert Munsch. The Princess slays the dragon – not the prince.
Love Cornelia Funke and this beauty – The Princess Knight. This princess is as brave and strong as her brothers and she is willing to prove it to everyone. (A la Merida and Mulan)
In William’s Doll, Charlotte Zolotow inroduces us to a little boy who wants a doll more than anything.
In Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt, Sam thinks men should be able to quilt just like women.
We are Free to be You and Me