Monday, April 25, 2011

What about those princesses?

I've written enough entries to see that I have some recurring themes in this blog. Here's one:

I believe we are called to be both present and a passage with young children.

"Present" in the sense that we need to be fully engaged with them, watching and observing as we do so - and be thankful for the little bit of insight we receive about their interests, their joys, their fears, what they are currently "working on." We should dare to go lightly with them, to see the world through their eyes.

"A Passage" in the sense - we need to consider where this might lead. What is valuable about what they are doing? What is the merit in it? What does it tell me about this child? How might I change what I am doing to make this a more positive opportunity for them? Is there a way to introduce or stretch some learning? How might I channel this for them?

I think this need to be both "present and a passage" is particularly important when our children are doing something we don't like or understand. (Though, here, we may want to add an intermediate step - reflection - take a moment to ask yourself, why is this bothering me?)

Today's example: princesses. (Aren't they on everybody's mind this week, with the royal wedding?)

One obsession that crops up in my 3s classes each year has been princesses. Little girls get so excited about this. Unfortunately, this is not always an obsession that the parents share. Some parents become concerned about their girls associating clothing, accessories, etc. with self-worth. Especially when they see 2-3 year old girls on the look out for one another at morning arrival, very interested in what each other is wearing. Especially when they can't get their little girls to wear anything other than a princess dress!

When our little girls throw on those princess dresses, we don't need to fear it as a statement on their self-worth but instead see it as the emergence of "self-aware" (and, simultaneously, "aware of others" - finally leaving the 2 year old "all about me" stage).

It is time to read the classic series about children's developmental stages and traits - Your Three Your Old by Louise Bates Ames.

Girls and boys are discovering themselves at this age. They are choosing their outfits and dressing themselves for the first time. They are all eyes and ears for their same sex role models; their genders are often very much "on display" - and "test-piloted" for the next couple of years. Children love to play around and even to blur the lines - girls dressing in construction gear, pirate costumes; boys putting on ball gowns. (One friend laughs of her young daughter running around "with a Nerf gun while in a tutu," following an older brother.) Children are starting to see, and be more aware of, differences between people.

These are very dramatic years - they love to dress up, play make believe. Knowing this, my response as teacher has been to have lots and lots of costumes and fabrics in the dress up corner of my room, for my 3s to delight in and explore. Typically, I throw myself into the mix - I am Queen Maureen, and I insist that we speak to each other with formal and polite tone:
"How do you do?"
"I am well, thank you, and yourself?"
Yes, I try to be present, in on the fun.

We also get concerned about the way in which girls compliment one another. One father mentioned his concern that the girls in the class were too caught up with what they are wearing - complimenting each other on "pink" and "dresses."

To an extent, these compliments are "parroting" - what children hear on their TV shows (Disney anyone?), throughout our media, and even what they hear at home/out and about. We are a pretty visual society! Step back and listen to what adults compliment each other on - "Oooh, I love your hair!," and "Where did you get that dress? It looks great on you."

I see the girls' compliments - as superficial and simplistic as they may be - as an opportunity. Children this age are beginning to see each other as 'friends' - compliments are a lovely start, I think. Throughout the day, I help children see what they are good at/what their gifts are - I try to compliment them on good things I see them doing, rather than what they look like. ("You are adding so many interesting details to that painting," or "What an enormous house you have built," or some such.) I might try to interject a new subject, if they seem to be dwelling on one thing (but I would also observe to see if I could figure out why this is the main topic of discussion).

This princess chatter is a reminder to embed my curriculum with friendship opportunities - specifically, teaching them about compliments. I have even done mini-lessons on "Giving a Compliment;" one simple idea, rolling a ball to one another and giving a compliment as you role the ball...teaching the recipient to say "thank you." To me, it's all good!

There are so many ways to channel princesses to a higher level. I have read old-fashioned princess tales and their modern counterparts, getting children to consider what is different? why? This is higher-level thinking. We have explored hopes and dreams - what would you do with a magic wand? One colleague and I had a lot of fun setting up a "royal quest" obstacle course, letting the children do all sorts of fun physical endeavors. There's no end to the possibility, if you open yourself up to it a little - to be present and a passage.

One last note: I haven't read Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein, and I hope it doesn't refute what I've written above. However, I've done a little internet searching about the book; Peggy Orenstein provides some excellent ways to "provide a passage" about princesses under the Resources page of her blog. Teachers and parents - check these out!

1 comment:

  1. I blogged about this right before I gave birth to my daughter. I think about the princess thing all of the time. (She has NOTHING on it that says "princess." Well, at least not yet.) Thanks for bringing your perspective to the conversation.