So, I have recently become completely fascinated with the importance of play in early child development and education (and in my opinion every age's development and education) and through a feminists perspective, how it can be used to introduce kids to topics of injustice or social construction. Since we are all constantly bombarded through media of our societal constructions, it is my belief that it is crucial to help children begin deconstructing injustice at the earliest age possible, while their brains are still rapidly developing (birth-8/9), and that the best way to do that is through play. Play gives children a liberation and freedom that is new to them. Play is often one of the most pure forms of communication since it is a natural reflection of children's thoughts and feelings. This can open up all kinds of new possible teaching moments based around concepts brought up in play that they don't feel comfortable talking about in "real life". During play, they are able to create scenerios (often similarly based on the world around them), conflicts, and entire new identities. In an adorable anecdote Ann Pelo, editor of Rethinking Early Childhood Education and author of the selection "Playing with Gender", recounts when three four-year-old boys were playing "pregnancy". They eventually all gave birth and the play progressed to them bringing the babies to their nipple to drink milk, changing their diapers, and lovingly caring for them. Finally one of the boys questioned the fact that they couldn't actually give birth since they were boys. The other one responded that, they were boy seahorses so it didn't matter. Here we can fully see the beauty of play, giving these young boys, who were exhibiting physical and emotional characteristics often associated with girls, the ability to freely imagine a world where they were not constricted by social or biological norms.
I decided to play with my 5-year-old cousin, Coco, and we created a world in which we both were male-identified characters. She wanted to be a daddy and I was the firefighter who saved her New Pooh (favorite teddy bear/"child") after a telephone pole fell into the house. Before the fire, she enjoyed shaving her face, writing checks, flying to Japan on business trips, giving people her business cards, and screaming hysterically (during the fire). I enjoyed petting my imaginary dalmation, suiting up in the heavy fire fighter outfit, driving the racing fire engine, and the super hero-esque feeling of bravery as I descended the "flaming" staircase and saved the day. Do I think that this game completely blew the top off the gender binary in Coco's mind? Probably not. But it allowed her to explore and become comfortable with activities that she identifies as male. My hope is that one day she will be able to analyze the activities that she chose to do while being the "dad" and realize that gender really has nothing to do with them.
By introducing children at developmentally appropriate ages to social construction in our lifestyle, beginning with play, we will have leaders who are able to express themselves to others, feel comfortable and confidant, and create imaginative solutions to issues of injustice.
Posted by: Nat
(Hope this wasn't too rambly, let me know if you have any questions!)