Hello dear MPS Families!
Wow! What a crazy start to our winter term with all the weather oddities. But, I feel like we are back on solid ground now, returning to our routines, starting lots of projects and learning more about the world. As you know, we have been working on making a quilt that we will be donating to a local refugee program. I have been talking to the kids about what being a ‘refugee’ means. It is a hard concept and now given the current state of Executive Orders from our new President, it is even more important that we talk to the children in simple language about a subject they will overhear news and conversations about. Without your guidance it will be so easy for them to misunderstand what they hear.
I have been explaining to the children that a refugee is a person who had to leave their home and their city and even their own country because something terrible has happened that makes it unsafe for them and their family to remain. The terrible thing could be that there is no food to eat because the has been no rain for years and the farmers cannot grow any food; it could be that there was a disaster like a volcano or a flood that made it unsafe; or it could be that there is a war where the grown ups are fighting and it makes it unsafe to stay. So these families have to leave and they cannot take their possessions with them. They have to go somewhere new – find new homes far away. Sometimes that means going where you do not know anyone, and you cannot speak the language of the people who live there. People around the world who live in safe places and where there is enough to eat help give these people (the refugees) a new home and a new start. They need people to help them find new homes, get clothes and food and find work and new schools. They need people to become their friends.
There are people who have come to our country and our city to find new homes. We are making this quilt to give to a family that is new to our city. We want it to carry all the love that we have stitched into it and help them know that they are welcome here, that we care about them and want to help them make a new home.
When I say it is a hard concept, it really is. Some of the children have told me that they had to move so they must be refugees and we should give them the quilt. I remind them that their family chose to move for different reasons – and that they got to take all of their things with them. Then I acknowledge the underlying feeling that they really like the quilt they are making and they wish they could have it. It is ok to wish that.
You can help them by asking them what they have heard about ‘refugees’ and listen to them. Ask them if they have any questions and then answer their questions as simply as you can. Reassure them that we live in a very privileged and safe place and that they are safe. And, because we do live in a safe place and we have enough to eat and a comfortable place to live, we can try to be helpers.
Laying the Groundwork for Openness and Love
After birth, children grow and change so much – sometimes it seems like you just turned around for a minute and suddenly they are another day, month, year older, complete with new skills, ideas, ways of looking at the world. One of their huge developmental tasks is the development of their basic identity.
If you sat down and tried to lay out your identity – to explain to someone else who you are and you had to start at the most basic level, what would you say? One of the basic elements of identity is that of our gender.
In the last 10 to 15 year we have had a cultural shake up in terms of what gender means. When I was a child sex and gender were thought to be identical concepts. Your gender quite simply corresponded to the sex you were assigned at birth – which is usually based on a quick look between a child’s legs.
What we have learned is that the biological traits that result in an assigned sex and the gender identity of a person do not always align. At one of our spring general meetings we will have a presentation on the development of gender identity and the most current relevant terminology and language.
Being a parent is such a humbling experience. Your child is born and you are filled with hopes and dreams for their future. You are also likely to hold assumptions about who they will be in some very fundamental ways. But one of the things that kids teach us early on is that there is really not that much we are in control of.
Their temperaments are pretty much hardwired, they will develop all kinds of interests that quite possibly are of absolutely no interest to you (dinosaurs? superheroes?), they are drawn to friends maybe you wouldn’t choose for them and more.
But much bigger than a child’s interest in dinosaurs or baby dolls is the development of a child’s personal identity. You do not get to choose their identity for them – this is something that they will do for themselves. We will talk at a general meeting about what is known about the development of gender identity. One thing I want to mention here is that it is generally accepted that children’s gender identity is developing between the ages of 3 and 6. And while that may be true it may be many years until they feel free to express that identity to the world.
It is incredibly difficult in our culture to come out as a person whose gender identity and ‘biological’ sex do not align. No parent wants their child to go through painful experiences where they are targeted, bullied, maligned or threatened in any way. Any parent’s heart breaks at the very idea of their child suffering that kind of pain.
But the mental health consequences experienced by a person who tries to deny their identity are enormous. Suicide attempts among people struggling with personal, familial and social acceptance of their non-conforming gender identity are very high.
It is important for us as parents, families and teachers to work hard to create an atmosphere of love and acceptance for the children in our lives. Our kids need to know that we see them, we recognize them and we accept them at their most basic level. How do we do this when it comes to the development of their gender identity?
You have a great opportunity during these early years to lay the ground work for openness and acceptance for your children by giving them messages that they are OK in every way. One of the ways you can do that is by taking the time to learn about gender neutral language and becoming expansive in your view and acceptance of the differences in our world. Unless you have gender nonconforming people in your family or friendship groups, it is not likely that your child even knows that there can be a difference between a person’s anatomically assigned sex and their gender identity. We teach children that if they have a penis they are a boy and if they have a vulva/vagina they are a girl. And young children are in the developmental stage of concrete operations so this often corresponds to their black/white view of the world.
What if we began changing our language. What if we actually talk about people who are non-conforming? We can let kids know that there are people whose assigned sex and gender identity are different and that is ok. You should keep your child’s developmental level in mind when your bring this topic up and you do not need to offer complicated explanations. Kids pretty much accept that which we deliver with confidence.
I began my learning about this topic and how it relates to young children probably six years ago. Now I try to remove gendered pronouns from books when I read. When a child tells me they are a boy/girl, I reflect back to them that today they feel like a boy/girl. If they ask me if I am a boy/girl, I tell them I feel like a girl. And sometimes I throw in there that some people with penises feel like boys and some feel like girls and vice versa.
There is a book that is titled Polka Dot that explores the idea of variable identity that was written for kids. But basically, the underlying message that you want to convey to your child is that you will love them unconditionally and always. No matter what. That the person they present to you is perfect and whole.
And beyond that, we accept without question the rich and varied identities of others – whether their gender identity conforms with their biology or not. And in doing this, you are creating a foundation for openness, acceptance and love. The language may feel awkward if you are just learning but you can do it!
And if ever you find yourself or your child needing help in dealing with their identity, you will always know where to find me and I hope that you will always know that I love you and your child unconditionally and always. You and your child are totally perfect in my eyes and heart. And if you or they can’t see that perfection, I will be there to help you find
Coming Up This Month!
In addition to our Special Person’s Tea Parties on February 9th and 10, there is more fun coming up this month!
Valentine’s Day is coming up this month. Feel free to help your child make and distribute Valentines to their classmates on the 13th for the 4’s class and on the 14th for Pre-k and the 3’s class. We will decorate paper bags and put them out for the kids to collect their Valentines. Also, please do NOT send any candy to school with their cards. We will make it fun but we also want to keep it simple. And if your child doesn’t wish to make or distribute Valentines, please do not worry. This is not meant to cause anyone any stress.
February 16th and 17th are PAJAMA DAY! Your child should come to class on their assigned day wearing their pajamas (if they feel comfortable doing so). Teachers and Parent Teachers should wear their jammies too! The children are also encouraged to bring a working flashlight (double check that it has fresh batteries and that they know how to turn it on and off), and a stuffed animal. Snack parents would plan a “breakfast type” snack (cereal, pancakes, scrambled eggs and toast, yogurt and fruit parfaits, etc – keeping in mind the food restrictions of your class of course!). We will go for a walk through the building and find the dark places to light up with our flashlights and will read our story in a special place. It is always a fun day.
February 23rd and 24th are our next FIELD DAYS! We will be meeting up at the Hoyt Arboretum and going for a walk in the beautiful forrest right within our city. Morning classes will meet at 9:30am and the Pre-k will meet at 1:30pm. Make sure that your child brings their own snack and water bottle in a backpack and that they are dressed for the weather.
Thank you everyone for all you continue to do for the school. As always, let me know if you have any questions or concerns.