Is this a sign of progress?

I vacillated on if I should publish this post, but I think it’s an important one, so I’m going to press the “publish” button. The post was inspired by a conversation I had with a student on Friday. My teaching partner, Paula, just went on her lunch break, and I noticed a group of children sitting down at the eating table. I decided to join them. With our open eating time, I love that we can sit and eat with the kids. Some of the most interesting conversations happen in this space.

As I was sitting down with them, a few children went off to play, and another child went to the bathroom. When he came back, he sat down beside me, and quietly asked, “What do girls have for their private parts?” I thought that I heard the question wrong, so I said, “Pardon. What did you say?” He replied, “What do girls have for their private parts? Not penises.” Okay, I was not hearing the question wrong. Now what should I say? I looked at him, and I realized how serious he was being. He was talking in a quiet voice, with sincere interest, and no thought of a laugh. That’s when I replied, “Vaginas.” He then said, “My uncle lives there, or somewhere like there.” I said, “Regina,” and he commented, “Yep! That’s the place.” With that, the conversation was over, but it really had me thinking.

I couldn’t help but reflect back on some discussions from last year. Our class was involved in the Roots of Empathy Program. In preparation for our first visit, Paula spoke about the first lesson, which included, “what makes a baby cry.”

Hunger came up. Many of our students had younger brothers and sisters, so it didn’t take long for someone to mention “breastfeeding” (not recorded in the video above). Just like with the conversation around the eating table the other day, the students spoke with Paula about breastfeeding in such a grown up and responsible way. They know the value of the mother’s milk, and that this is just another way that a mom feeds a baby. I think that I’ll forever remember a few sessions into the program, when a child asked a question about breastfeeding. Not one child laughed. There was not one suppressed giggle. This is in a class of three-, four-, and five-year-olds, where bathroom talk is just about the funniest thing around, and yet, when we teach children terms and the need to respect this language, they do. 

I’m left wondering now though, for I have not always taught primary. I spent a couple of years teaching junior grades. I still remember introducing my Grade 5’s to the human body. I had the most wonderful plaques to share with them, and was so excited to get them talking, but all I got were squeals of “that’s gross!” It took a lot of time to move beyond the grossness to the point in which we could discuss bodily functions without guffaws and embarrassment.

The Music Connection 

I think about some of the topics that our kindergarteners have already brought up, and I wonder if this will later lead to less embarrassment, fewer laughs, and more mutual respect, as challenging topics are discussed in later years. What impact might this have on how these students communicate about different topics (from bodily functions to puberty)My recent experiences have me thinking that the conversations could sound different, but will the comfort with these topics naturally change to discomfort as students get older? Is there a way to prevent these changes? What do you think?


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