Huge THANK YOU to Ashley Bustamante for contributing the following (fabulous) guest post! Ashley is a Program Coordinator on the Sanford Harmony Program, co-author of the Z-Book Series for the SHP preschool curriculum as well as a soon-to-be published Children’s Author. Her book, A Lamb and A Llama is available for pre-orders on the publisher’s website – Mapletree Publishing.
I am often asked, what is this Sanford Harmony thing all about? Are you trying to change the fact that boys like boy stuff and girls like girl stuff? There are so many ways I can answer that question, but here it is (in a relatively large nutshell). . .
I have a three-year-old nephew. In many ways, he is a typical three-year-old, full of that infinite energy that I constantly wish could be bottled. He is also a very talkative child with an inventive imagination. As long as my nephew has known me, I have had a storage ottoman full of old My Little Ponies from my childhood. For a long time, they went largely unnoticed. He saw them in passing when exploring the contents of the ottoman, made a brief mental note of their existence, and then proceeded to ignore them. And then one day he saw My Little Pony on television. Suddenly the pony toys were interesting and now he asks to play with them. However, he has a clear favorite. He always wants to play the blue unicorn with rainbow hair. It HAS to be that one. He doesn’t care that she’s missing her tail or that she has bright pink highlighter dots on her plastic body. He wants the blue unicorn.
Why does he pick the blue one? Never once have we told him that he had to pick blue. We spread all the ponies out for him, and he never fails to choose the blue unicorn over all the others. I should also point out the way he plays with the ponies. They don’t go to tea parties or frolic through flowery fields. They battle each other with their horns and trap each other in the moon. As a person interested in beginnings and consequences of gender stereotypes, should I be dismayed that he always chooses the gender-typical color?? Of course not! The kid likes blue, let him like blue. Removing gender-typed toys from a child’s options is just as bad as refusing to let them play with toys typically enjoyed by the other gender when they want to.
We are trying to help kids be comfortable with themselves and with others. We want the little girl in the sandbox to be allowed to play with monster trucks without being told they are boy toys. We want the little boy who loves pink to be able to go to school in a pink shirt without being bullied. But if that little girl then wants to play princess and that little boy wants to wear a blue sweater, go for it! We want children to explore their options, but many children are genuinely interested in gender-typical things, and if that is the case, then we say “Awesome” The problems arise when children are confined in the gender box and feel that they are not allowed to enjoy things that are typically reserved for the other gender.
We want kids to feel that everything is for everyone, and that nobody should be excluded from something because they are a boy or because they are a girl. We want them to explore and see that they don’t have to be limited by the messages they often receive from TV, peers, and adults. They can have fun doing the same things as the other gender . . . with the other gender. Kids need to be comfortable in their own skin and welcome the idea that diversity in interests and in play partners is a good thing. . . and that is just a part of what this Sanford Harmony thing is all about.