Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Girls V. Boys

We recently experienced an outbreak of girl v. boy rivalry in our 3-5's class. There's always a little testing out of exclusionary play of the "no boys" or "no girls" variety, but this was on another level involving a group of boys collecting at the top of the concrete slide chanting, "Boy Scouts! Boy Scouts!" while a group of girls gathered in our playhouse answering back, "Girl Scouts! Girl Scouts!" The game included the girls making occasional forays up into the boy's area while being verbally pummeled by the chant, followed by the boys braving the playhouse to the same effect.

The game featured intense expressions and taut body language, so I kept an eye on things, checking in with the kids. I said things like, "You look angry. It makes me think you don't like this game," but was more or less shooed away while being assured the game was "fun," so I stepped back, staying close in case things turned physical or verbally abusive. These are kids who have known one another for a long time, played well together, even visited one another's homes. As I watched this game that was so unsavory to me play out, however, I was impressed by how responsible they were. I mean, they weren't hurling insults, just chanting statements of gender solidarity. There was all kinds of aggressive posturing from both sides, but no pushing, hitting, or even impeding going on. I would have appreciated a smile every now and then, some evidence they were actually having the fun they insisted they were having, but none of them broke character, just as none of them seemed inclined to leave the game.

I'm pretty sure there were times in my past as a teacher when I would have barged in to scuttle the game, letting my adult judgement of things rule the day, probably pushing it underground, sending the message that certain thoughts and themes are "bad." I'm glad I've learned to be slow to react, to dig in first and try to see events though the eyes of the kids, which, after all is the perspective that matters most. It's their play. It's their experience. It's their education. After a couple of days, they moved on to other things, apparently having learned what they needed to learn, the girls and boys remixing as usual. 

Adult knowledge and understanding is a great thing, but it's not the only way to view the world, let alone the correct way.

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Anonymous said...

I'm truly not asking this as a gotcha, because I've been in this situation myself with kids and really wondered whether to step in...but what if it was the same game, only the kids were separating by race, or another marker? I'm guessing we would step in. Why is gender different?

Unknown said...

Girls rule, boys drool.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of one of my favorite picture books, Roxaboxen (McLerran/Cooney) which describes elaborate imaginative play, including play of this kind and with similar language (ie. the girls were "girl scouts").

Teacher Tom said...

That's a good question, Anon. I think gender, at least at this age, is different, but I don't know why. You've given me something to think about.

And other Anon. -- I read Roxaboxen in class today. I'd forgotten about the girl v. boy war.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking the same thing as the other anonymous poster. How is chosen segregation by race, or class different from chosen segregation by gender? I have seen all of the above acted out on playgrounds and am uncomfortable with all of them, particularly since many people end up continuing this type of segregation into adulthood.

Anonymous said...

I think the difference with gender is that the childrens themselves have noticed it. It is a stage of development that children go through. Race/colour/creed isn't something that children would naturally segregate by, it is learned behaviour and therefore easier to distinguish i.e. starting with an odd comment from one child perhaps and slowing spreading. That's just my take on it, in my experience anyway :)

Nancy Geier Puckett said...

Perhaps posing the question of why each group is so proud that they chant their "title", not to interrupt play, but to open up a social dialog for reflecting once play has ceased. This opportunity may come during play if someone seems hurt or uncomfortable by the segregation of peers.

Unknown said...

At this age I would think that kids matching themselves into groups is not a bad thing at all. I suppose it would be no different that categorizing other objects. The concern would be the terms used to show power versus the other category/group. I don't think kids are doing this because they believe they are better or superior in their group so much as an understand of power in numbers and how grouping together and working as a team can make you stronger. Just remember that every experience is a lesson learned but adults can help facilitate the lesson that is learned from it by asking open questions.

Anonymous said...

"I think the difference with gender is that the childrens themselves have noticed it. It is a stage of development that children go through. Race/colour/creed isn't something that children would naturally segregate by, it is learned behaviour"--I don't agree with this. Children absolutely notice race, even though adults sometimes like to pretend that they don't and I have seen them self-segregate by it. A lot of anti-racist activists speak about the importance of acknowledging and talking about race with very young children, especially White children, because otherwise the message is received that race is something taboo that must never be mentioed. (Parents of color generally do talk about race with their kids, apparently--you just do, because you have to.)

I liked the idea of talking with the kids after the play is complete--a debriefing, so to speak.

dajd1984 said...

Perhaps it is only a developmental thing because the child has been told since birth that he is a boy/girl, and so there comes a stage where they want to discover what this label means.
Maybe if we instilled the idea that our kids are whatever colour skin they are as much, they'd want to explore that too.
I'm sure my son would want to touch/fiddle with his willy whether girls existed or not, he'd still want to explore it, but its just a body part, he wouldnt necesarrily be exploring how he's different from others.

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