This Sunday, I’m lucky enough to be hosting an all-day camp for girls in grades 5 though 8. We will be discussing and doing activities about relational aggression and bullying, body image and careers—all in honor of the United Nations’ Day of the Girl Child, an annual observance on October 11 also known as Day of the Girl.
While you probably don’t have an entire day to devote to celebrating Day of the Girl, you might have some time in your classes to do one or more of the following activities. The best part is that all students, not just girls, can participate in any of them. It’s important to build awareness of the issues facing girls so that their peers can stand with them against these issues. Also, many students, including boys, are facing these issues, too.
Relational Aggression and Bullying
Relational aggression is “emotional violence and bullying behaviors focused on damaging an individual’s social connections within the peer group.” It’s most often observed among middle- and high-school-aged girls—if it’s observed at all. Because relational aggression is not physical, it is often difficult for teachers to see.
Ending relational aggression has to start with students. They need to be made aware of the problem and given solutions for how to fix it. Discuss the problem of bullying with your students. You will probably discover that, more often than not, many students you work with are torn bystanders. Show them what happens when people don’t speak up against bullying. Unfortunately, since bullying is such a huge problem, they might already know what this feels like.
Then, give students ways to encourage each other rather than break each other down. At the camp, I will have the girls line up and hold hands. I will then have them pass a hula-hoop from one person to the next, all the way down the line without letting go of each other’s hands. As the facilitator, I will encourage them to empower each other by giving them ideas of what to say and do. This activity will help show them ways to lift each other up instead of tear each other down. It will also show them how good it feels to accomplish something together.
The thing I hear most often from students—regardless of gender identity—is that having a good body image is really difficult with all of the media attention that is paid to having a “great” body. Kids know that these bodies are not representative of most people’s bodies, but that doesn’t help much when it comes to actually looking in the mirror and seeing what’s there after being barraged with images of “perfect” bodies all day.
The best you can do is to discuss body image with your students. While there is no quick fix for body-image issues, it does help to unpack the reasons we don’t see ourselves as beautiful or handsome. I find that showing videos like Dove’s “Evolution” or “Choose Beautiful” really gets discussion flowing. If you feel it is appropriate for your students, the trailer for Miss Representation—or the whole film—is also a great discussion starter. You can also critically analyze magazine ads and covers with students. Teaching them to critically analyze media will go a long way toward erasing negative self-talk in their lives.
But don’t end the discussion there. Rather, end with something empowering and positive, like a compliment wall. Here’s how it works: One student sits facing away from a whiteboard or chalkboard. All of the other students then go up to the board and write positive things about the seated student. When the seated student turns around, he or she will see a wall full of compliments. It’s hard to say negative things about yourself after such a positive experience.
As teachers, we talk a lot about making sure students are college and career ready. But what about discussing how students choose careers to begin with? The vast majority of my female students want to become chefs, teachers or nurses. There is absolutely nothing wrong with those professions, of course—I chose one of them for myself—but there are a million other options out there that they might not even know of yet.
A great way to get the community involved in students’ career selections is to have them come in to discuss their careers with the kids. At my camp, I am going to have a panel of women—some from STEM fields, some who are administrators in hospitals and some who oversee entire college programs—come in to talk to the girls. Hopefully, these students will be able to make some connections and see new options unfold for them.
These are just three of many ways to celebrate Day of the Girl, raise awareness of gender inequality and help students work toward empowering themselves and each other. How will you celebrate Day of the Girl?
Samsa is a freelance writer and teaches high school English in the south suburbs of Chicago.