Gender, it’s more complicated than we think

It’s Real World Wednesday again, and this week we get to learn from and with the awesome Meg Thomas!Slide1

Meg has an undergraduate degree in early childhood education and a masters in Human Development from Pacific Oaks College. She is a research geek who loves unearthing the stories that research has to tell us about our work with young children.  Based on this research and more than 30 years in the field, she feels passionately about providing the support that children need to learn how to live, learn and work in a diverse world where they are exposed to bias and stereotypes every day.  She has worked to teach adults how to do this in a variety of settings.  She is  the early childhood program manager for AMAZE and the lead author for the “Everyone Matters” and “We All Matter”  early childhood anti bias programs and the AMAZE persona doll guide.

This week, we asked Meg, “What do we know about gender in the lives of young children?

Here’s her insightful response:

Gender in early childhood.  It’s complicated.  Too complicated for a short blog post in fact.  But here’s a few things you should know.

Gender happens in lots of parts of us, in our genes, our hormones, our brains, who we know ourselves to be and how we want others to see us.  Even though many of us were taught that gender is a simple matter of boys and girls, human experience and increasingly, medical science, shows us much bigger and more complex picture.

Much like many of you, I was taught in biology that humans have either XX genes (female) or XY genes (male).  No-one ever mentioned any of the other possible gene combinations for gender like XXX or XXY, nor did they tell me that hormones have an enormous influence on how those genes express themselves.  In fact, hormones, rather than genes, determine so much of our gender that the International Olympic committee has found they can’t use genes to determine who gets to compete as a man or woman in Olympic events.  And when it comes to genes, xx and xy don’t tell the whole story.  New research shows that there are at least 50 different genetic strands that shape gender in mouse brains, probably more in human brains.

Science has shown us that gender impacts our brains, and as early childhood educators, we know this to be absolutely true.  Observations and research show us that boys tend to devote more brain power to spatial processing and girls tend to devote more brain power to verbal and emotional process.  The key here is the word tends. Recent research using brain scanning techniques found that while there are many traits which are more common in men or women, very few of us have brains with all female or all male traits.  More than 90% of us have some of both. On top of that, physical sex characteristics develop in baby’s bodies very early on – 6-12 weeks prenatally, while gender in the brain develops relatively late -somewhere between 20 and 40 weeks.  In that development, with gender and physical sex characteristics are impacted by hormones in the mother’s body and the prenatal environment, which means that the gender in our bodies may or may not match the gendered part of our brains. And that’s just the brain and biology part of all this. When you add in the way hormones impact our brains and bodies, cultural and social ideas about what gender is supposed to look like and all the other parts of how gender plays out in human societies –it’s no wonder that children spend a lot of time “playing” with gender to try and figure it all out.

Given the importance of gender in a person’s identity, we need to make sure that our early childhood classrooms are welcoming places for gender diversity.  We need learning environments that work well for all the ways of learning and being across a gender spectrum, and we need teaching practices that don’t label students according to what a boy or a girl should or shouldn’t do.   As educators, we have the freedom and the responsibility to interrupt assumptions about who a child is and who they are going to grow up to be based on gender, and we can let all children know that the gendered expectations they are picking up from the world around them do not control their future.  More than anything, we need to make sure – every day- that no child is ever bullied or left for the way they express their gender.

What I’ve shared here is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we’ve been learning about gender.  If you’d like to know more – come to “Gender- it’s more complicated than we think” which we’ll be presenting at the National Head Start conference, California AEYC, Minnesota AEYC, and hopefully at NAEYC PDI this year.

If you are wishing for concrete tools for discussing the complexities of gender with young children – AMAZE has spent the last year working with a broad coalition of people who understand gender to develop tools for doing this – feel free to e-mail me at megthomas@amazeworks.org if you’d like to know more.

Fantastic!  Thank you so much, Meg!

Advertisements

Ijumaa, why is play an equity issue?

Happy Real World Wednesday! This week we have the pleasure of introducing Ijumaa Jordan! Slide1

Ijumaa is an early education consultant, who focuses on reflective practice, culturally relevant teaching, and developing anti-bias curriculum for young children and adults. Being a part of Harvest Resources Associates, means much of her work with teachers and administrators happens by facilitating professional development in a “community of practice” model that promotes reflective teaching practices and leadership.

Ijumaa has more than twenty years of teaching in early education and directing and also serves as an Adjunct Instructor. She received her Basic Core Certificate in Early Childhood Education from UCLA Extension followed by a BA in Human Development from Pacific Oaks College with a concentration in Early Childhood Education, Emergent Curriculum, and Anti-bias Education. She also received her MA in Human Development from Pacific Oaks with a concentration in Leadership in Education and Human Services with sub-specializations in College Teaching/Teaching Adults.

At the 2016 NAEYC Annual Conference, Ijumaa is hoping to lead a session titled, Ollie, Ollie, Oxen Free: Ensuring children from all socio-economic and racial groups have access to free and complex play. Given her interests and expertise, we decided to ask her: “Ijumaa, why is play an equity issue?”

Here’s her incredibly thoughtful response:

Play is a right for all children and they deserve an early education experience that supports this right. As more research and opinion pieces are written about how play is disappearing in early education, the “elephant in the room” is that this worrisome trend is not impacting all young children equally. The reality is that early education is segregated by race and class in the same way K-12 is. We can no longer live in a fantasy that we can advocate for play-centered early care and education without dismantling the oppressive educational system that denies access play based on race and class.

As a consultant I get invited to visit programs across the country. What I began to notice is that access to play differed depending the racial and socio-economic status of children being served with a few exceptions. I observed different environments, the quality of play materials, and teachers’ interactions with children. I recently visited a program in an affluent community where four out of eighty children are Korean American, two children are Chinese American, one child is African American, one child is bi-racial (African American and Latina from Puerto Rico). The rest of the children are white. Children have lush outdoor environments to explore where they can roll down a hill, climb up the tree house and slide down, there is paint on easels that cover a wall. There is a wire construction that you can add more wire and beads to. There are two water tables one with plastic sea animals and the other with different kinds of cups. Inside the classrooms there are areas for dressing up to save the world from monsters, building a farm and a rocket ship with unit blocks, there are drums and a basket of scarves for interpretive dance. I hear children laughing, talking, whispering, and crying while being held because they fell down. I see a teacher with a small group of children discussing their plan to build a rolling river in the sand pit outside and drawing their plans. The teacher who is giving me the tour shows me the children’s developmental portfolios that are filled with work samples of drawing and writing, pictures with captions, anecdotal notes, comments from parents, and in the back a developmental checklist.

In contrast, I also recently visited a publicly-funded preschool program located in a working class neighborhood. The racial make up is 50 percent Latino/Latina from Mexico and El Salvador and 50 percent African American. 40 percent of the children speak Spanish as their first language. Spanish and English are spoken in the classroom but most of the written material is in English. Four classrooms encircle a large yard with most of the space taken up by a huge play structure. I find out later that the families helped fundraise for it. I was told that because they share the yard with other classrooms, outside playtime is twenty minutes. Most children run around the play structure and the children tell me that sometimes their teacher brings out balls. When they laugh loud or yell they are asked to lower their voices. Once inside they sit on the carpet on top of their own carpet piece. The teacher waits about five minutes for everyone to sit with their legs crossed and hands in their laps. She reads a book from the reading curriculum on the letter M then has children repeat preselected M words that she shows with cards. After group time the children go to their assigned seats at their group desk with their either the teacher or assistant teacher and trace the letter M. Then (finally) it’s indoor play time. The choices are puzzles, a set of Legos, a craft project of pasting a pre-cut monkey (for the letter M) on a paper bag to make a puppet, and the dramatic play that is set up as a kitchen with babies on a bed. The director showed me the assessment books, which had the child’s picture on the front and a print out of the assessment tool marked.

Reading these descriptions of two different programs you might think well it’s just because the teachers in the second program are less educated and don’t know the value and importance of play. In both programs the teachers have at least BA degrees and the assistant teachers are either in college or have associate degrees. The teachers in both programs know that play is valuable and learned about that in their formal and informal education opportunities. The problem is more systematic.

In an early education environment where more assessments and regulations are administered the unintentional consequence has been the lack of play and more teacher directed activities to “teach” children the skills that will make them “school ready” and “close the achievement gap”. Teachers are pressured to raise assessment scores so they “teach to the assessment”. These educational reforms applied to low-income children, children of color, and native children are restricting their access to self-initiated, complex play.

It’s time we discuss and analyze how systematic classism and racism privileges play for some children, while devaluing it for others. With the goal of moving play back to the center of childhood experiences for all.

I would love to have more conversations about this topic you can find me on Facebook on my professional page Ijumaa Jordan – ECE Consultant or on twitter @ijumaaj.

Thank you, Ijumaa!

Welcoming gender non-conforming children

Happy Real World Wednesday! This week we get to hear from Sarah Meytin!!!Slide1

Sarah is an ordained rabbi with an MSW. She has been in early childhood education since 2009, currently serving as assistant director of a Jewish preschool in Washington, DC. In 2013 she earned a National Director’s Credential from the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership. She has also completed the Jewish Early Childhood Leadership Institute (JECELI) In 2010, Sarah founded Rockville Open House, a safe space for LGBTQ Jewish teens and their friends/allies, which meets monthly at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington.

We asked her: What can early educators to do make preschools welcoming for gender non-conforming children?

Here’s her insightful response:

A person’s gender or gender identity is their understanding that they are a boy, girl, man, woman, etc.. One’s gender identity is something known instinctively and may or may not “match” a person’s external genitalia, chromosomes, or what the doctor wrote down on their birth certificate. Children as young as 18months know their gender identity, and may understand their identity to be different from the gender they were assigned at birth. Gender expression is what we call the outward manifestation of gender, and is culturally determined. Gender expression includes the clothing, hair styles, personal preferences, and other “stereotypes” we associate with a particular gender identity.

The terms gender non-conformity or gender variance indicate that one’s gender expression does not match exactly, or at all, with the expected, or stereotypical, expression expected for one’s gender. In young children, this may include young girls who refuse to wear dresses or cut their hair very short, or boys who dislike sports and are more inclined to draw butterflies and rainbows than dinosaurs and trucks.

Creating Safe Spaces

To get you started creating safer and more welcoming early childhood programs for gender non-conforming young children, here are some tips:

  • Educate yourself about gender identity, gender development, and sexuality.
  • Allow each child to self-identify, including using their preferred pronouns, gender identification, and name preference
  • Help parents to understand that most gender variant young children will outgrow this identity by the time they reach puberty, but some won’t.
  • Expand assumptions of the gender-variant child and others: Remind them that they are “a different kind of boy (or girl)” and that there are “different ways to be a girl (or boy).” Be sure to educate other children, staff, and the parent community as well.
  • Provide social support, including with other staff, parents, and other kids in the class
  • Do this by emphasizing diversity and inclusiveness of all kinds, and with everyone in the community.
  • Have gender neutral bathrooms/changing rooms.
  • Avoid dividing children by gender – instead use birthday month, clothing color, letters of first/last name, etc.
  • Provide resources, including books, that show diversity of families as well as gender expressions

To learn more, we recommending checking out the resources below and consider attending Sarah’s session, You Belong Here: Welcoming gender non-conforming children, at this year’s NAEYC Annual Conference.

Important Reads

Resources for Classrooms

Same-sex parents

  • King & King by Linda de Haan
  • Two Dads: A book about adoption by Carolyn Robertson
  • Daddy, Papa and Me by Lesléa Newman
  • Mommy, Momma, and Me by Lesléa Newman
  • And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson
  • The Family Book by Todd Parr

Gender Variance

  • My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis
  • The Different Dragon by Jennifer Bryan
  • Jacobs New Dress by Sarah Hoffman
  • It’s OK to be Different by Todd Parr
  • Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
  • Be Who You Are by Jennifer Carr (for elementary school children)

Wow!  This is fantastic!  Thank you Sarah!

Real World Wednesdays: Nominate Yourself!

Every week on our Facebook page, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)’s Diversity & Equity Education for Adults Interest Forum features the1237573_1665296367093424_4950231286415187138_n work of an outstanding member of our community to highlight salient “real world” issues at the intersection of early childhood, diversity and equity.  What we learn from these conversations is then posted to our Blog, allowing us to continually build our body of collective wisdom.  We call these segments Real World Wednesdays.

Our growing community is full of so much collective wisdom and experience! Please consider sharing your perspective in an upcoming Real World Wednesday segment.

You can this form to nominate yourself or someone you know:

So I’ve got all these diverse children’s books, now what?

Improving the diversity in children’s literature has been getting a lot of attention over the course of the last few years–and for good reason!  We’ve got a long way to go.  Big shout out to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign and everyone else who’s doing this important work!

diversity_tinakugler

At the same time, there’s a lot more to the conversation about diversity & equity in children’s literature than simply making bookshelves more diverse.  As exemplified by the recent release and then swift recall of A Birthday Cake for George Washington, just because a book features a non-white character doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an anti-bias book.  On this topic, Louise Derman-Sparks has done some fantastic work putting together An Updated Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books, which we’ve turned into the handy tip-sheet below:

Slide04

This webinar, Using an Anti-Bias Lens to Examine Early Childhood Childrens Books in Your Program, hosted by Linda Santora and Cheryl Kilodavis is also a great resource.  And so is this post by Dr. Cathy Gutierrez-Gomez on Tips for Choosing Culturally Appropriate Books & Resources About Native Americans.

2013-11-06 14.00 Using an Anti-Bias Lens to Examine Early Childhood Childrens Books in Your Program by Linda Santora and Cheryl from Engagement Strategies, LLC on Vimeo.

And secondly, we’ve gotta think carefully and critically about what happens when we take our high-quality, diverse, anti-bias children’s literature off the shelf and actually use them in our homes and classrooms.  How do we use these books to create meaningful experiences for young children that open up and support ongoing conversations about diversity and equity?  At the end of the day, we have to remember that while books are amazing resources (we LOVE books!), they do not do the work of anti-bias education for us.  That’s still up to us.  We’ve put together some Dos and Dont’s below.  What would you add to the list?

Slide06

The blog Raising Race Conscious Children also has some great tips and strategies.

And finally, while you might have created your own personal library full of diverse, anti-bias children’s literature, there is still a larger systemic problem that you can (and should!) play a role in addressing.  Check out this fantastic post: Ten Steps to Promote Diversity in Children‘s Literature by Wade Hudson.

“What adults can learn from kids” by Adora Svitak

For our 1st Real World Wednesday of 2016, we want to amplify the voice of a young person! Nearly all of our conversations on our Facebook page pertain to young people, but we rarely hear from and listen to their actual perspectives. We recognize that this is a big problem and are committed to continuing to reflect on and address the ways in which our Forum perpetuates adultism in policy and practice.

So today we are featuring Adora Svitak. According to her official bio:

“Since the age of four, Adora has been exploring what she can do with the written word: everything from championing literacy and youth voice to working with the UN’s World Food Programme to raise awareness about world hunger. Hoping to instill her love of writing in others, she taught her first class at a local elementary school the year her first book, Flying Fingers, debuted; since then, she has spoken at hundreds of schools, classrooms and conferences around the world.

In 2010, she delivered the speech “What Adults Can Learn from Kids” at TED. The speech received over 3.3 million views on TED.com alone, and has been translated into over 40 different languages. That same year, Adora started organizing TEDxRedmond. Over the course of years of speaking, her audiences have included teachers, CEOs, entrepreneurs, artists, students, and delegates at the United Nations Economic and Social Council’s Youth Forum.”

Adora’s important TED Talk starts:
“When was the last time you were called ‘childish’? For kids like me, being called childish can be a frequent occurrence. Every time we make irrational demands, exhibit irresponsible behavior, or display any other signs of being normal American citizens, we are called childish. Which really bothers me. After all, take a look at these events: Imperialism and colonization, world wars, George W. Bush. Ask yourself, who’s responsible? Adults.”


Additional Resources

What should early educators know about ableism?

It’s the last Real World Wednesday of 2015 and we are so excited to learn from and with Ana Maria Menda!10400782_1663068440649550_4756358930619636765_n

Ana is a trilingual qualitative researcher interested in the intersectionality of bilingualism and special education. Ana has 15 plus years of teaching experience with students from the elementary to the doctorate level, and is a mother to the coolest 11 year old boy who happens to be in spectrum for Autism.

We asked Ana, what should early childhood educators know about ableism?

Here’s her heartfelt and thoughtful response:

I was sitting with a psychologist, the pre-k teacher, the school counselor and the assistant principal when I was given the news that my son was in the spectrum for autism. Professionally, I had been a public school teacher for years and was working towards my doctorate in special education, so I was not new to the schooling or diagnosing context, however, no amount of experience in education could have prepared me to be on the receiving end of my child’s diagnosis.

The multidisciplinary team was kind. Noah’s pre-school teacher knew what she was doing, and Noah had already been flagged with a developmental delay through the Birth-3 team, which made the actual diagnosis not so shocking. But it was then, in the stoic schoolroom behind the main office that I felt the floor under my chair drop.

Unfortunately, there is no intervention in the literature that can help mend a mother’s broken heart from witnessing the labeling and exclusion of their child. Because attached with that label, often times, as I am still learning, come things like discrimination and isolation. Sometimes the manifestation of isolation is as simple as never receiving an invitation to classmates’ birthday parties, or play dates. Sometimes discrimination is being told by the teacher that seeing tears in your child’s face made her happy because she realized that kids with autism have “emotions” too. Luckily, the heart is a strong muscle, and we learn though the missteps that there are also patches of solid ground to stand on and that there’s people that can support us.

So, as a mother, here’s what I wish early childhood educators knew about ableism:

  1. Discrimination is not always blatant. It can exist in tiny spaces even within the most caring and inclusive environments. When party invitations are shared, or conversations about those events are taking place. When teams are formed during playtime outside. In how kids choose to sit in the rug for whole group instruction or on how they select partners to work with. As a mom I wish I could sprinkle a dash of magic dust on my son that would instantly make him feel accepted. But as teachers, you can work some of that magic in your classes. So I wish you could explicitly talk to your class about reaching out, including and learning from friends who might be different, even outside the boundaries of your room. And that you talked to your students about this every day, in an honest way.
  2. A child’s label says little about that child. When you connect in a sincere way with your students, learn from them, and work collaboratively with their families, you might be able to see growth and potential that looks nothing like the language in their individualized educational plans. Really. You have the power to make an incredible difference. I’ve seen my son’s behavior change so drastically according to how his teachers treated him, that the goals in his IEP became obsolete. You have superpowers when kids walk into your room. You are their superhero. Use that power.
  3. Love what you do. Kids can smell the difference. If working with children with disabilities is a means to an end, your students will know. Be real, own up your desire to do something else, but don’t become the bitter teacher that dreads the kids who are difficult. Your superpowers also work in the opposite way and you could emotionally break a child who needs the right support from a genuine teacher.
  4. True and tried interventions are important, but so is your intuition and critical sense. If you have exhausted the strategies in your toolkit, reach out. Parents don’t always have the answer either, but a team can help you before things escalate. Don’t be scared to ask for help.
  5. Most importantly, believe in your students. In all of their ability to grow, to connect and to be happy. At the end of the day, that’s what we want for our children, more than the academic achievements, more than green behavior chart, we want our child to be happy, to feel accepted and to accept who they are.

Thank you so much, Ana!  Your perspective is so important!