Michael needed help.
He was in the dress-up center trying, with little luck, to shimmy a shiny turquoise mermaid dress over his head. Clearly he had no clue what he was doing. But the look on his face told me he really wanted to wear the frock. I walked over and helped.
“Put your arms up,” I instructed.
I pulled with all my strength and we finally got the dress over him. He accessorized with pink shoes, a bride’s veil, and an oversized tan purse. Walking over to the mirror he revealed an enormous smile when he finally saw himself.
In my kindergarten class, gender identity issues spring up early. Children are conditioned before they begin school. Pink is for girls. Blue for boys. Girls take dance class and boys play sports. Sometimes these stereotypes are hard to break. During our daily sharing time, when these topics come up, I always try to encourage students to challenge norms.
“I had my first T-ball practice yesterday,” Sarah revealed.
I could see the looks on the boys’ faces.
“Wonderful, is your T-ball team coed… that means both boys and girls play?” I asked.
“Well, kind of. I’m the only girl on my team,” she replied.
“Good for you, some of the best athletes in the world are girls,” I said.
Sarah is one of the most “girly” girls in class. To hear her pride in not only playing T-ball, but also being the only girl on the team was inspiring.
During center time, the doll house—equally popular with boys and girls—allows children to practice story language and retell events from their own lives. Nothing delights me more than when two boys select the center, and I mosey over to listen in on their play. Learning to negotiate the delicate intricacies of domesticity is a serious skill. Boys enjoy sharing the duties of the “mom” and “dad” equally. I also get an interesting look into their home lives from these conversations. When Alex instructed the “mom” to “bring me a beer,” I knew how things rolled at his house.
We work to break down gender stereotypes daily. But the one place it isn’t necessary is with the important business of affection. Girls and boys equally offer hugs and request to hold my hand. To them, I’m their teacher and gender isn’t an issue. I only wish the world saw everything so clearly.
Of course, I am the ultimate model of breaking stereotypes—a man teaching kindergarten. Each day when my students walk in and see me in front of the class, they get a lesson in going against societal norms. We talk about dreaming big and growing up to be whatever you want. I’m a perfect example.
Halpern is a kindergarten teacher in Maine.