It's Gay Pride month, and I'm thinking about how picture books, and adult role models, can affect young children's perceptions of sexual orientation and gender.
As teachers, we can make the ground fertile and plant some seeds--- but sometimes there’s some magic involved, too. In my early days as a kindergarten teacher in Cambridge, MA, I felt lucky to be working in a gay-positive environment. As a young lesbian teacher fresh out of grad school, I was able to create my own curriculum; our unit on Family, done in the fall, was my pride and joy. I had children in the class with straight parents, same-sex parents, single parents and foster parents. Each child made a photo collage of her/his family for our huge "Love Makes a Family" display. I put my collage up there, too, of me and my partner Bonnie (in the heady days of domestic partnership!). The array of photos and family configurations sparked some great questions and conversations.
And yet…one day just before dismissal time, we read a picture book in which a female character gives flowers to a male character. I'm pretty sure it was Tomie dePaola's Strega Nona Meets Her Match
. One of the boys in the class piped up, “Girls can’t give boys flowers!” We launched into a brief but spirited discussion of all the different ways people can give flowers to those they love... girls to boys, boys to girls, girls to girls, boys to boys, child to adult, etc. But the clock was ticking, and it was time to go.
We opened the door and parents came in to collect their children. Bonnie surprised me by meeting me at the classroom, a rare treat. Turns out that a friend, a master gardener, had just thrust a bunch of flowers into Bonnie’s hands, saying, “Here! These are for you and Mary!”
The children in my class crowed with joy. “Mary! Mary! Bonnie’s here, and she brought you flowers!” Yes. We can make the ground fertile and plant the seeds, but that day there was some magic in those flowers.