This entry is the second in a blog series on gender identity in preschool, written by child psychologist and early education author Dr. Ginger Welch. This entry explores how teachers can set the stage for family diversity by examining classroom practices that can encourage or discourage inclusiveness in communications with families.
Have you decided that you're ready to examine your classroom communication style for gendered messages? Great! Here are a few common practices that can help you get started on inclusive communication.
- Sign-up sheets: Do your event sign-up sheets still call for homeroom moms? The simple act of changing the title to homeroom parent or classroom liaison can reduce this barrier that might keep others from signing up.
- Family homework: Learning about children and their families is an important part of education, but families may feel vulnerable sharing details of their lives if they think the information could put their children at risk for bullying or unwanted attention. A simple note home about the assignment can help parents feel reassured that you are knowledgeable and welcoming of all the ways families can be. An important message to families is that the assignment emphasizes who is important to this child rather than a strict, arbitrary notion of "family."
- Faces like mine: When families first step into your classroom, do they see representations of different family groups? Are there places for the children to display photos of their own important adults? Are toy figurines stored in predetermined family units or are they grouped together so that children can create their own diverse family systems for play?
- The roles we play: Many of the children in your care may be reared by their biological parents, but many others will have step-parents, foster parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles, neighbors, or even adult siblings who are central to their care. Teachers can help children expand their concepts of family by helping them reflect on who takes care of them.
- Going with they: Like me, you probably grew up thinking that he and she are singular, and they is plural. Hold on to your seat, because they is now widely accepted as appropriate for individuals. It gets us out of the he-or-she box and is more inclusive for parents and children alike.
About the Author
Dr. Ginger Welch is a former early childhood educator and current licensed psychologist and infant-mental-health mentor who has provided early intervention and early childhood mental-health services for over twenty years. As a full-time clinical associate professor at Oklahoma State University, she conducts research on early childhood trauma and child maltreatment and routinely presents at national conferences, including the National Association for the Education of Young Children and Zero to Three. Dr. Welch is the author of the resource books How Can I Help? A Teacher's Guide to Early Childhood Behavioral Health and The Neglected Child: How to Recognize, Respond, and Prevent.