A group of children are sitting around a table in the Nest. They have just received their morning snack and are eating in a companionable silence.
SM raises her head, and makes eye contact with me.
“Bee, um I’m…I’m a girl. And and MS is a girl, and all the other people here are boys.” SM gestures to LR, MC, and HB.
The children follow SM’s gesture, and then look back to me. I find myself wondering if they are asking for confirmation.
“SM, I hear you telling me that you think you and MS are girls, and that LR, MC, and HB are boys.”
SM nods between nibbles of cracker.
“Thank you for sharing that with us, SM. When we look at people, sometimes we have an idea about whether they might be a girl or a boy. Even if we think we know, usually it is best to just ask! That gives the other person a chance to let us know their name and pronouns.”
MS nods to herself.
SM replies, “I’m a boy!” and MS says, “And me too! Me too! I’m a boy.”
They look to one another and laugh.
I smile and say, “Thank you for letting me know! You can remind me if I forget!’
MC, who has been quietly listening while sucking his thumb suddenly smiles and cries out,
“Bee, Bee! I’m a kid!”
LR nods enthusiastically and holds his spoon aloft while declaring, “I’m a BIG kid!”
HB joins in, “I’m a big kid too! Yes! Yes! Yes!”
SM says, “Wait! I’m a baby kid!”
MS puts down her spoon and uses her arms to emphasize, “I’m a baby kid AND a boy kid.”
HB turns to me, cocks his head to the side and asks, “Bee, are you a teacher?”
I smile and nod while replying, “It sounds like are talking about our identities. Who we are as people. I AM a teacher. I am also an adult and a woman. Those are some of the ways I define myself.”
HB nods once firmly, seeming to confirm that those identities match to the ones he has listed for me. His seriousness surprises me, and I say, “I see you nodding. You’re agreeing?
HB laughs and says, “Yeah, cause you’re a teacher, Bee!”
MC then inquires, “MS, are you a teacher?”
MC asks again, “Um, are you a teacher?”
MS “No. Not me! I’m not a teacher!”
One of the questions we get asked most often about our curriculum is how our anti bias principals come into play while teaching toddlers. We hear, “How do you talk to kids about the big stuff? Race, gender, ableism, classism etc” I find that these topics arise quite naturally when you are engaging with children because they are constantly integrating information. Childrens’ minds are taking in everything they can, while labeling, sorting, and digesting all of it. We simply need to have the confidence to open doors when they appear before us. As far as I know right now, SM’s initial observation was correct. At this point it seems like the children identify along the gender lines that she delineated. I could have simply nodded and said, “You’re right!” However, our curriculum here at EH is largely constructivist. The teachers and children literally build it together. So when SM made that statement, and the other children looked to me for confirmation, it was an invitation to me to explore what can be a very tricky topic with children. I wouldn’t have brought it up on my own, not because it is taboo or complicated, but because the children hadn’t supplied the context. We all learn with greater ease when what is being explained is something that we were already teasing out in our minds. Had HB been talking to me about the complexities of baseball, bringing up gender probably would have been pretty meaningless. The collective interest in my response to SM’s statement let me know the time was right.
Was it perfect? No. I stuck to the binary SM presented, listing boys and girls as the only options. That in itself is fundamentally biased on my end. In the moment I was afraid that denying the binary would destroy the context the question was built upon. Upon reflection, I don’t know if I made the right choice. The wonderful thing about learning with children is that we have soooo many opportunities. I take comfort knowing that gender will come up again. The binary will come up again. And when it does, the context will be slightly different, and I will open the door and together the children and I will talk about it and explore our ideas with one another. I share all of this with you in an attempt to empower you. You don’t need a special degree to talk to your kids about the hard stuff, the sad stuff, the downright wrong stuff, or the tricky grey stuff. When you see the door, open it. Open it knowing that it will be hard, it might feel scary, and that at some point or another it just isn’t going to come out right. Open it anyway. Open it for your children, for their future, for our planet, and our collective humanity. Our status quo isn’t acceptable, and each one of us must do all that we can to fight for a different tomorrow. When your child leads you to a door, especially if it is a dark and scary one, open it. Open it stumbling and bumbling, open it curious and playful, open it even when you are absolutely unsure of what you will say next. Open it because we have passed the time when we can leave doors like that closed.
Please feel free to leave any questions, wonderings, or comments in the space below. Has your child been leading you to any doors that you have been unsure about opening? We are here to help! Leave a comment or send us an email. <3