My preschooler, Molly, has recently become obsessed with superheroes. Well, maybe the more accurate assessment of the situation is that I have become obsessed with her interest in superheroes. It all began before her little friend Jackson’s birthday party. He had sent out Spiderman invitations, and to a 4-year-old, no further explanation needed – he was having a Spiderman party! Now as a side note (and a topic I’d like to explore further at a different time), Molly is quite taken with Jackson. He is a super cute, fun, happy kid. He’s the kind of kid that others are really drawn to. So it goes without saying that when the arrival of the invitation coincided with Molly’s discovery of a Spiderman t-shirt of her very own , it was on!
That t-shirt was like a ticket into an exclusive preschool playgroup. She couldn’t believe her luck, stumbling upon this garment in the deep hallows of her dresser drawer. Was it really hers? Where did it come from? The truth is I had forgotten she had it. I must have bought it for her the year before (judging from the size), and I’m not entirely sure of my motivation. It was a pretty cute little pink tee with ruffled sleeves and an iron-on Spiderman swinging from a web. I probably enjoyed the challenge to gender stereotypes it represented, but looking at it now, what I love most about it is the way it integrates Molly’s interests – being fancy and being a superhero!
Well, none of that really mattered as long as she could wear that Spiderman shirt to Jackson’s birthday party. And wear it she did! I watched her seek out her superhero loving friends to show them she was sporting a superhero shirt too. It will come as no surprise that these buddies were, in fact, all boys, and I was thrilled to see her mixing it up with the kids from her class.
It has recently become very apparent to me that the boys and girls in Molly’s class who used to integrate so nicely together are spending more and more time in single gender peer groups. One of the things I find most troubling about this is that by spending so much time with same-sex friends, kids are really missing out on a lot of opportunities to learn from one another. I am not alone in taking note of this. Gender Segregation is a phenomenon that is well documented and researched. It has even been said that in many ways, boys and girls grow-up in two separate worlds. So here we have our little ones honing social, communication and relationship skills in isolation of one another.
With all of this in mind, I have been on a mission lately to get my daughter to play with lots of different kids. By “lots of different kids,” I’m really referring to my desire to have her include more boys in her social circle. But in spite of our “discussions” at home – I’m sure you can imagine the deep reflections that resulted from these – Molly still preferred to play with 3 or 4 girls that have become good friends. But now, here was my chance to really make it happen! My plan was to arm my daughter with the tools to successfully navigate her way between both female and male peer groups. And by tools I mean a Spiderman t-shirt. I marveled in the potential that a frilly superhero shirt had for bringing my daughter’s interests together, and in turn, for bringing kids together. This shirt made me realize that boys and girls can and should come together without anyone sacrificing their own interests. My goal was to provide Molly opportunities to grow, learn and develop by exposing her to more playmates, play interests, communication styles and relationship experiences. Perhaps all of this was a bit lofty for a t-shirt, but it’s a start, right?