5 Girls & 7 Boys – Gender and Sex in a Kindergarten Class

On Thursday my attention was drawn to a new part of the daily routine for the girl’s kindergarten class.  As soon as I saw it I knew I had to do something to have it changed.  Today was my first chance.

A simply drawn boy wearing a baseball cap, and holding a bat and ball, coloured blue with the word BOY.  His counterpart in pink with a pretty dress and holding a flower with the word GIRL sits beside him.  Both on the bulletin board next to the calendar, a counting chart, and other simple items used to subtly teach the kindergarten class basic numerical skills.

boy and girl clipart

The teacher touches the head of each student she deems as “boy”, counting as she goes.  “Seven boys.”  The number gets written on the wipe off board under the picture representing “boy”.  She then touches the head of each remaining child, counting.  “Five girls.”  That number gets written on the board too.  An addition sign gets added between them, and everyone counts on their fingers.  “Twelve kids.  Seven boys and five girls makes twelve kids.”

Now, my ideal kindergarten is gender neutral.  At this age there really is no reason at all to discuss “boy” or “girl”, what each means, and how we each fit into societies gender binary – at least not at school.  At the very least, if it can’t be a neutral space, it should be a equal space.  And these disgustingly stereotypical figures are far from that.  If we must count girls and boys, we need to ask the children “Who identifies as a boy?”  Then count the raised hands, marking the result under the word (no picture) BOY.  “Who feels like a girl?”  Then count those raised hands, marking those results under the word GIRL.  But I think we can do better.  Why reinforce a false binary by bring gender into question at all?  After all, there are more than two sexes, more than two genders (and the terms boy and girl can refer to either gender or sex, which just further muddies the water).

Why not ask “Who likes baseball?” and “Who likes football?” and add those two numbers.  Switch it up, and the next day ask “Who likes veggies?” and “Who likes fruit?”.  Every day of the week could be a different pairing of questions.  After all, we don’t need to come up with the same answer every day.  Some kids may vote yes to both, some may not raise their hand at all.  This way we practice our early math skills, learn something interesting about our friends, AND we don’t reinforce any false notions about gender or sex – which have no place in a kindergarten class to begin with.

I spoke to kid kid’s teacher about my concerns today, and I’ll be honest.  I’m not sure she understood my concerns at all.  She thanked me for bringing them to her attention – but it was very much a canned response…  what one could expect from someone who has never really given much thought to their own gender or sexual identity, someone with CIS privilege, who has lived in a very small, heteronormative box, their entire life.  While I don’t hold this against her, it does mean it may be time for a little educating.  Issues of gender and sexual identity are vitally important to the health and safety of our young people (and the adults they will become), and even something as simple as being told they are BOY…  simply drawn with a baseball cap, bat and ball, coloured blue…  can hurt, when that child knows -inside- it’s not right.

About Tobi-Dawne

Tobi-Dawne Smith is many things to many people... photographer, canine behaviour expert, equal rights activist, green politician, lactivist, intactivist, writer, crafter, dog handler, third wave feminist, etc. But most important in her life is her role as mother to an amazing five year old. Learn more about TD at http://www.tobi-dawne.com/ follow her blog at https://td365.wordpress.com/ get to know her daughter at http://lilyannslemonade.wordpress.com/ or check out her work at http://tdphotography.me/

Posted on October 22, 2012, in Feminism, gender variant, lgbt, LGBTTQ, Parenting, People and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. What you have brought up, Tobi-Dawne, is very important. Transgender, transsexual, intersex and two-spirited people have always been a part of all recorded human societies, and the majority of cultures have found ways to integrate and even celebrate these differences. Our western culture is in the minority for having decided to try and hide and repress this human (and animal) fact. I was in a local store the other day, and a child was looking at me with a very worried expression. She asked her mother, “Is that a boy or a girl? What is it?”. Luckily, I was feeling good about myself that day. I smiled at her, and replied, “I’m definitely not an it! I’m a girl. I know it can be confusing, I used to be a boy, but now I’m a girl”. Her mother reassured her that it was OK, that I was a girl. Lucky her mother wasn’t prejudiced, or afraid of transsexuals. I bet that little girl went to a kindergarten that reinforced gender stereotypes. There’s really no other reason why she should be alarmed at seeing someone like me.

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment Miki. As long as we are teaching the gender binary as normal, anyone who doesn’t fit neatly within it will face discrimination. And it starts early. It’s time we advocated for gender-free classrooms.

  2. From an anonymous youth, who said I could share their words with you all:

    “Wow hit the nail on the head.
    As someone titled a “girl” who wore their New Jersey Devils cap, and camo shorts with pockets deep enough to fit my football: this is a big deal to me. This, in it’s simplicity, is the core of every real pain I’ve felt. This is why I’d call home sick on gym days, why I’d go home from field trips, why it was okay for people to treat me like I was less. This is why I can’t bring myself to have a grudge against the people that shoved my head in a toilet, the people that knocked me out cold a block from my house in the middle of winter, the people that wouldn’t hire me, the people who gave me lower marks than I deserved, the people that snorted when I got a touchdown or a new badge in Scouts. This was literally the first crack in my self esteem. It was almost my C.O.D. And to this day nobody I knew realized that it was even a problem because it’s just normal. It’s just a part of “learning”.
    So, thanks for realizing.”

  3. When I dropped the girl off at school today, while the teacher was still busy supervising the playground, I noticed a change on the bulletin board. The two simplistic drawings, stereotypical girl and stereotypical boy, were gone. There were still images there to represent “girl” and “boy”, but they were drawn by children and held no obvious gender markers either way. So, while it’s not the end goal I was hoping for, it’s a step in the right direction. I also want to ensure that I’m clear… this is not the failing of the teacher, it’s a failing of those who taught her. Gender-free classrooms are simply something that hasn’t been advocated for, and it’s about time we did just that. Splitting up a class by having the boys do one thing while the girls do another may be the easy way to do things, but that’s only because we haven’t taken the time to think of other ways to do it. And just because something is how it’s always been done, doesn’t mean it’s right. It’s time we fought for our children – including those who don’t fit into a neat little box.

  4. Well said Toby! I hate how that activity forces on kids a gender identity they may not agree with. Can they just be left alone?

    • Thanks for weighing in Emily. And there especially seems little reason for it if it’s being done as a basic math skill builder. Unfortunately I was told today, after being detained when class was over by the administration, that it is about educating children on which washrooms to use in public places because we have many immigrant families at our school. I was absolutely flabberghasted. I had provided them with the public library reference on LGBT-friendly picture books and was told none of those books will be allowed in the classroom, because that kind of education needs to happen at home, and doesn’t belong at school. At this point, I’m deciding on our next steps… this is wrong in SOOO many ways. I really did love our community school, these were not the type of responses I was expecting when simply asking for a little more mindfulness.

  5. i know this isnt the point of the message, and i love LGBT-friendly stuff as much as the next person… but doesnt 7 plus 5 make 12? not 13…

    • LMFAO I’ll have to go back and look. Did I really write 13? Clearly the fact that this whole thing has me so beside myself (and add to that the fact that I’m currently battling a cold virus) left me with fewer brain cells available for things like basic math. LOL Thanks for pointing that out. Oy! LMAO

      Good grief. *hangs head in shame*

      • Yep. Clearly my emotions and passion for this issue had totally destroyed my ability for basic math. There were 13 kids enrolled in the afternoon class at that time, which is probably where I pulled that number from… but there were 12 in attendance this particular day.

  6. how is that list not allowed in the classroom?!?!?! Was that statement from administration or from the principal?
    This is an excerpt from Saskatoon Public Schools “vision and values”:

    When students finish the day in our schools, they will have a feeling of accomplishment. They will have focused their energy on meeting challenges, asking questions, offering solutions, and opening new doors. Each day they will renew their curiosity, passion, and joy through learning.

    In our school division, every individual will be valued. We will recognize that every person has personal, physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual needs. We will acknowledge a multitude of learning styles to ensure that all members of our learning community have the opportunity to develop their potential.

    We will build our confidence by acknowledging and celebrating success, by accepting mistakes as a natural and necessary part of learning, by nurturing the imagination, and by supporting individual growth.

    In the pursuit of our vision, we will be value-driven and people-centered. We will honour our commitments. We will invest in relationships to strengthen our sense of place and purpose in the educational and broader communities.

    Saskatoon Public Schools envision a learning community that is caring, committed to celebrating diversity, and respected for its focus on learning. We believe we can create a future in which students eagerly embrace learning. We believe that learning has the power to build confidence and inspire hope.

    I found this at: http://www.spsd.sk.ca/division/missionValues.html

    • I am well aware of their vision and values statement, and the principal (who is part of the school administration team) is the one who said that no books from the list would be welcome in the classroom. I have not yet decided on a course of action and am definitely open to suggestions. As this goes against the school board vision and values statement.

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