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Guest post by Author, Afsaneh Moradian
When my daughter was born, my husband and I decided not to focus on gender because we wanted her to feel confident to be herself and to play with whatever she liked. Even though we consciously tried to leave gender out of her life, she was still learning from the world around her.
When she was two years old, she announced one night that she wanted to be a boy. When we asked her why she answered because boys solve problems. I was stumped by this. She didn’t see too many two-year-olds solving problems, and in our family, I tend to be the main problem solver.
I started to think about the videos she watched and the books we were reading. While there are many female and diverse characters, many have male characters solving problems or taking the lead. I realized we needed to do something to broaden her view of what girls are capable of doing.
I immediately asked friends and family to send us picture books with strong female characters. While we now have many wonderful books about awesome girls, the girls are wearing skirts or dresses and many are princesses. My daughter just couldn’t see herself in any of these books and continued to identify with strong, male characters like Spiderman and Captain America.
While we supported her love of superheroes, gender stereotypes were influencing her peers and impeding on her social interactions. At school, the boys didn’t want to include her and the girls were mostly playing house or princess. My daughter was getting frustrated and I was getting angry that in 2019, games and toys are still gendered.
I decided to write a story where a child gets to play with everything and everyone without concern for what they are supposed to do according to their gender. By removing gender from the main character, Jamie, the reader is given an example that it’s okay to just have fun, be yourself, and be a good friend.
Free Spirit Publishing decided to publish the book and Jamie is Jamie: A Book About Being Yourself and Playing Your Way became part of their long list of titles that support children’s social and emotional development.
There are many ways to create gender-neutral play spaces, games, and activities, especially with the materials you already have lying around.
Last year, I created this popular article on my publisher’s site on this very subject and you can view Creating a Gender Neutral Playspace HERE.
Here’s one gender-neutral activity that fosters cooperation and collaboration:
Put together a variety of materials such as a paper plate, a spoon, a paper cup, a pair of chopsticks and tape. If you are working with different groups of kids, give each group the same materials to work with and the same number of pieces of tape. Give them 3 minutes to work together to create the tallest structure they can that doesn’t fall over. (Please feel free to adjust the time to the needs and ages of the kids). After the time is over, measure each structure to see which team won.
If you don’t have enough kids for teams, ask the kids to work together to make one very tall structure.
This activity can be modified for younger children by giving groups of children with a variety of materials that don’t require tape such as blocks, books, paper, dolls, Duplos, and other manipulatives.
I also shared a similar activity on my website that involves making paper monsters. Talk about fun and giggles!
See the full activity here.
Afsaneh Moradian has loved writing stories, poetry, and plays since childhood. After receiving her master’s in education, she took her love of writing into the classroom where she began teaching children how to channel their creativity. Her passion for teaching has lasted for over fifteen years. Afsaneh now guides students and teachers (and her young daughter) in the art of writing.
One more thing…
Through color-coding in stores, kids “learn” which toys are “supposed” to be for girls or boy. Pink and yellow toys are considered “girly” and anything blue or dark green is obviously for boys, right? What about the toys themselves? Can boys play with dolls and girls play with trucks?
Of course, they can! And that’s the open-minded thinking that is captured in my children’s picture book, Jamie is Jamie.
I wrote Jamie is Jamie for my daughter who’d been told that only boys can play a superhero. My daughter and every other child deserve a book that gives them permission to be free to play and explore their own way-not the way everyone “thinks they should.”
I created my book to challenge gender stereotypes and encourages children to make play choices based on their interests. And because playing is fundamental to learning, I’ve created a special section in Jamie is Jamie for teachers, parents, and caregivers where they can find tips on how to make kids’ playtime learning time.