Crossing the Gender Line

How often do we hear the proclamations by our children: “That’s a boy’s color?” “Those are for girls!”

Beyond culture and environment, art and play can provide an opportunity for everyone to try on different materials and roles.

As a specialist in puppetry and the expressive arts, I have been exploring with my colleagues how to stretch the black-and-white thinking of young children.

Puppet improvisations are one means of exploration. The children are presented with a problem or inquiry through enactment by puppets. They then solve or explore the problem collectively.

Recently we discussed whether there are fixed boy and girl colors. Typically blue is for boys, and pink is for girls. We asked the children to begin questioning whether these are facts or personal preferences.

One child, previously adamant about the ‘rules’ of gender regarding colors, surprised us with his flexibility. When awareness was brought to a puppetry circle about how children may feel about being limited or mocked for their choices, he was the one to provide a solution.

“Let’s call them everyone’s colors. Then everyone can choose what they like.” The group agreed. And for the moment, within the safety of our group circle, there was agreement.

As teachers and parents, we can model, facilitate and help diminish the mocking peer voices and the conflict that is created internally and between our children regarding gender roles and rules.

Recently, a simple idea surfaced while observing a group of 5-year-old boys making airplanes with colored craft sticks. I brought gems and sparkly pipe cleaners over to their table.

“Anybody interested in decorating their planes?” I asked. Then I walked away to observe from a distance.

Usually they would take two colored sticks, connect them with a piece of colored masking tape and feel complete. The rest of the time was then spent flying the planes.

Being offered but not encouraged to add to their planes, I watched with interest as one boy considered the materials that were very tempting to the girls. Slowly he began peeling the gems off their backing and adding them to his plane. This was followed by carefully curling the pipe cleaners around the body and wings with great focus.

The other boys did not follow his lead. However, I noticed that the next time the group made their planes, this same leader gathered the jewels from where the girls had moved them. He, again, used them to decorate his plane.

Soon after, other boys, and soon girls, began building a fleet of very shiny and sparkly airplanes.

Classroom Guidelines for School and Home:

Set up a table with colored craft sticks, colored masking tape, scissors, markers or oil pastels. (Be sure to include pink, blue and purple as choices.)

Observe what it is that the children are constructing. Listen for what is being expressed if a child’s preference crosses the ‘gender line.’ Be available for facilitating inquiry. Asking such questions as:

· Are there any girls here who love blue? Does anyone know a girl who likes blue? Is that true all the time?

· What about boys who love pink and purple? Does anyone know a boy who likes pink?

Name what was discovered by restating it for the children. “Oh, so there are some girls who do like blue and boys who like pink. Do you think we can choose the colors we like whether or not they are called boy colors or girl colors?”

 · Once the construction is under way, bring over additional materials such as stick-on gems, shiny pipe cleaners, ribbons and trim.

Again, be available for what surfaces, gently expanding their capacities to be critical thinkers.

Creating an environment of curiosity and exploration is a way of offering children alternatives while allowing them to make their own wise choices.

Product Recommendations from Discount School Supply®:

Jumbo Colored Wood Craft Sticks - 500 pieces (CJUMBO)

Peel and Stick Gems - 442 pieces (GEMS)

1/2" Colored Masking Tape - set of 10 rolls (CLRMSET)

Colorations® Blunt Tip Scissors (CBS)

Sparkle Stems (PSPAR)

Colorations® Super Washable Chubby Markers - set of 200 (CHBST)

Colorations® Outstanding Oil Pastels - set of 336 (COPACK)

Assorted Ribbon Remnants (RIBBONS)