Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Baby Tarzan

Children often bring their own toys to school. There was a time when I strongly discouraged this practice, mainly because these toys too often became bones of contention, with the owners forever asserting their ownership while the non-owners evoked our classroom ethic about community property: You can use it when I'm done with it. Today, I'm a fence-sitter. I mean, after all, I bring my own private property to school every day and I'm certainly not going to give the kids turns playing with, say, my phone. I'm going to insist upon my ownership rights. At the same time, if you're going to leave an attractive toy lying around the place, you can hardly expect that your fellow preschoolers aren't going to want to lay hands on it.

So now we sort of play it by ear. You are welcome to bring your toy from home, but you are cautioned that other kids are going to want to play with it, and it's possible it will become lost or broken, and if you are worried about that, you can put it in your personal cubby for safe-keeping. Most kids, most days, opt to store their beloved treasure safely in their cubby, visiting it throughout the day.

There are some kids, however, who have no qualms about sharing their toys from home. Indeed, some have even said to me, "I brought this to share with the other kids," and they do seem to take joy in watching their friends play with them. Some time ago, one of these generous spirits brought a naked action figure to school and set him free. Before long, it had become a part of our playground. Most of the older kids, and their parents, seemed to know it was Tarzan, although I kept calling him Hercules because, honestly, without the loincloth, they kind of all look the same. At one point, one of the younger children adopted it as her baby, carrying it around against her chest, soothing it, stroking it, and feeding it the way one does. It's a silly sight to my eyes, this be-muscled tough guy being mothered so gently, but as she explained, "He's little and he's naked. He's a baby."

We were discussing baby Tarzan in a group, when the subject of his gender came up. "He's a boy baby."

"I don't think he's a boy. He doesn't have a penis."

The group studied the figure for a moment. One of them said, pointing to his groin, "That's his penis," Several other children responded, however, that they didn't see a penis although they all agreed that this is where it would be found if there was one.

"But I don't see a vulva either."

"And he has daddy breasts. Mommy breasts are bumpy."

We were silent for some time, studying this anatomically incorrect doll.

"She has long hair like a girl."

"Teacher Tom has long hair and he's a boy."

We were silent again, a moment that was finally interrupted with a bright idea, "Maybe it can be a boy or a girl or whatever you want it to be!"

That decided, there was a murmur of agreement as the group broke up to go its separate ways. Left alone with her baby once more, the "mommy" looked her baby up and down, then asked, "Are you a boy baby or a girl baby?" Then she hugged it to her chest without waiting for an answer.


What if the whole world understood the power of trusting children with the freedom to play, to explore their world, to ask and answer their own questions? What if everyone respected their right to learn in their own way, on their own time? What if we remembered that children must have their childhoods and that means playing, and lots of it? Registration is now open for Teacher Tom's Play Summit , a free, online conference that takes place June 20-25. Click here to get your free pass to all 24 of our incredible sessions with early childhood and parenting experts and thought leaders from around the world. Every one of these people are professionals who have placed children first. Please share this far and wide. You will walk away from this event transformed, informed, challenged, and inspired to create a world that respects children and sets them free to learn and grow. Together we can, as presenter Raffi sings, "Turn this world around!"

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