Hey feminists, I know you are but what am I?

That moment when I realize I am far less sexist than feminists…

If I had a nickel for every time I was taken to task by some internet feminist for being allegedly sexist back when I used to run my anti-feminism blog, I would be writing this post from my Northern Michigan hunting preserve with luxury cabins and on-site deer processing facility.  But it turns out, feminists are the real sexists:

In Karen Keller’s kindergarten classroom, boys can’t play with Legos.

They can have their pick of Tinkertoys and marble tracks, but the colorful bricks are “girls only.”

“I always tell the boys, ‘You’re going to have a turn’ — and I’m like, ‘Yeah, when hell freezes over’ in my head,” she said. “I tell them, ‘You’ll have a turn’ because I don’t want them to feel bad.”

Although her approach might anger some parents, Keller is sticking to her guns: It’s all part of a plan to get girls building during “free choice,” the 40 minutes of unstructured play time embedded at the end of every school day.

Huh.  Sex-segregated play?  Tell me the one about gender being just a social construct, feminists.

I know I said I wasn’t going to write about the idiocy of feminism much anymore, but this story hit close to home.  As you may know, I am a speech-language pathologist.  I have worked in private practice and out-patient med rehab, but currently I work in a public school.  It’s a nice school.  The teachers are good, it’s a semi-rural setting, the kids are progressing well…no OMG aren’t the public schools so awful! stories to share about the building I work in.  The Kindergarten teachers there, who are not to my knowledge sexist feminists, all have tubs of Legos in their rooms for the children to use during choice time, and I have never ever seen them restrict use to one sex or the other.

As readers of my old blog may recall, I am a huge proponent of using Legos or other such bricks during therapy.  A typical therapy session for me is as follows:

I go to pick up Bobby (not his name) from Mrs. Smith’s (not her name) Kindergarten room.  He is building with Legos but doesn’t mind stopping to come to the speech room to work on his /s/ sound.  We sit at the table and I open up my large totebag filled with ziploc bags.  In the bags are various small sets of Legos, including the Friend Legos that are marketed toward girls, with their instruction booklets.  There are also large ziploc bags full of Snap-N-Style dolls.  He may choose any of these items.  Bobby always chooses the Legos, and he never chooses the Friend Legos.  Girls almost always choose the dolls or sometimes the Friend Legos.  Hey folks, I don’t make the biological sex roles!  But neither do I fight against them…

“Bobby, let’s go through your words now.  For /s/, keep your teeth together, put your tongue on the ‘T’ spot, and blow.  Ready?  Repeat after me.”

After 5 words, Bobby gets the blocks he needs to complete step 1.  He then uses the words in sentences and gets the blocks for step 2.  He continues working dilligently on his speech work with pauses to build.  At the end of the session, he has built this:

“Great job on your speech sounds, Bobby.  You may have 2 minutes to play with what you built.”

“Can we make a video?” he asks.

Yes, I say, smiling to myself because Bobby doesn’t know that making Lego videos is my trick for getting him to practice narrative language skills.  Bobby proceeds to narrate a brief story about a bad thief and a good cop while I record it with my school iPad.  While he watches the video happily, I tell him to check to make sure his story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  He says it does.  He gets his sticker (he can choose from a wide variety of stickers but almost always chooses a super hero sticker – hey folks, I don’t make the biological sex roles).   He leaves.

Bobby returns to class happy and sits down for read-to-self time.  When Suzy (not her name) comes to speech, she gets to choose from the same totebag.  She almost always chooses the Snap-N-Style dolls, which stimulate her spatial reasoning skills and develop her fine motor abilities just like Legos do.  Her narrative video shows a girl doll feeding the Snap-N-Style puppy and brushing its fancy fur.

Oh, curse you, you persistent biological sex roles!

Naturally Bobby and Suzy are free to choose to play with whatever they find in the totebag.  Boys who play with dolls and girls who build motorcycle cops are A-okay by me; my therapy goals for them will be achieved either way.

In other words, I don’t have to be sexist like feminists are to use Legos at school.

Now, let us contemplate the school district’s response to noted sexist Kindergarten teacher Karen Keller:

“Following the release of a recent news article, the Bainbridge Island School District (BISD) has received inquiries that reflect inaccurate perceptions about student access to Legos in Karen Keller’s kindergarten classroom at Blakely Elementary School,” wrote district spokeswoman Galen Crawford.

“In keeping with a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education grant, Ms. Keller gave girls a designated time to play with the building toys during a 30-minute ‘free-choice’ time block in September 2015. This isolated, short-term practice ended in October. All students in all classrooms have and will continue to have access to all instructional and noninstructional materials.”

Hey Bainbridge Island School District administrators, here is a protip from me: if you refuse to call out isolated incidents of terrible and probably illegal behavior by one of your teachers, you feed the fire of public perception of our schools being evil dens of ultra left-wing idealogues who want to brainwash and indoctrinate little children to their personal political agenda by all means possible, including using discriminatory classroom practices.  Those of us who are down here in the trenches know that most teachers aren’t like that, so why do you throw them under the bus by defending bad apples like Karen Keller?   It’s hardly a mystery why homeschooling is increasing by seven to fifteen percent per year when certain school administrators won’t police their own.

Luckily for me, this kind of crap would never fly in the district I work in.  I wouldn’t work there if it did since speech therapists are highly in demand and I could choose to work in a variety of schools, therapy clinics, hospitals, or skilled nursing facilities instead.  I will never silently acquiesce to sexual discrimination against boys no matter where I work.

But let’s end on a positive note, shall we?  Let’s talk about why I use Legos in my therapy plans so often.  It isn’t solely because Legos are fun and children love them.  There is actually a plethora of research that demonstrates the cognitive, fine motor, linguistic, social and academic benefits of playing with bricks such as Legos.  I use them as reinforcers for speech sound articulation therapy, for building narrative language skills, and for improving social pragmatic language skills for children on the autism spectrum.  I’ve used them with kids who stutter to practice fluency techniques.  I’m even considering starting a second blog on which I post all my therapy lesson plans involving Legos or other building blocks since I’ve seen so much improvement in the children with whom I use them.

For those who are interested, here are a handful of studies, but there are many more:

  • Caldera YM, Culp AM, O’Brien M, Truglio RT, Alvarez M, and Huston AC. 1999. Children’s Play Preferences, Construction Play with Blocks, and Visual-spatial Skills: Are they Related? International Journal of Behavioral Development; 23 (4): 855-872.
  • Casey BM, Andrews N, Schindler H, Kersh JE, Samper A and Copley J. 2008. The development of spatial skills through interventions involving block building activities. Cognition and Instruction (26): 269-309.
  • Christakis DA, Zimmerman FJ, and Garrison MM. 2007. Effect of block play on language acquisition and attention in toddlers: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 161(10):967-71.
  • Heisner J. 2005. Telling Stories with Blocks: Encouraging Language in the Block Center Early Childhood Research and Practice 7(2).
  • Ferrara K, Hirsch-Pasek K, Newcombe NS, Golinkoff RM and Shallcross Lam W. 2011. Block talk: Spatial language during block play. Mind, Brain, and Education (5): 143-151.
  • Kamii C, Miyakawa Y and Kato Y. 2004. The development of logico-mathematical knowledge in a block-building activity at ages 1-4. Journal of Research in Childhood19: 44-57.
  • Keen R. 2011. The development of problem solving in young children: a critical cognitive skill. Annu Rev Psychol.62:1-21.
  • Legoff DB and Sherman M. 2006. Long-term outcome of social skills intervention based on interactive LEGO play. Autism. 10(4):317-29.
  • Oostermeijer M, Boonen JH and Jolles J. 2014. The relation between children’s constructive play activities, spatial ability, and mathematical word problem-soving performance: a mediation analysis in sixth-grade students. Frontiers in Psychology 5 Article 782.
  • Pepler DJ and Ross HS. 1981. The effects of play on convergent and divergent problem solving. Child Development 52(4): 1202-1210.
  • Richardson M, Hunt TE, and Richardson C. 2014. Children’s construction task performance and spatial ability: Controlling task complexity and predicting mathematics performance. Percept Mot Skills. 2014 Nov 11. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Roseth CJ, Johnson DW, and Johnson RT. 2008. Promoting Early Adolescents’ Achievement and Peer Relationships: the Effects of Cooperative, Competitive, and Individualistic Goal Structures. Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 134, No. 2: 223-246.
  • Sprafkin C, Serbin LA, Denier C and Connor JM. 1983. Sex-differentiated play: Cognitive consequences and early interventions. In MB Liss (ed), Social and cognitive skills: Sex roles and child’s play. New York: Academic Press.
  • Stiles J and Stern C. 2009. Developmental change in young children’s spatial cognitive processing: Complexity effects and block construction performance in preschool children. Journal of Cognition and Development (2): 157-187.
  • Verdine BN, Golinkoff RM, Hirsh-Pasek K, Newcombe NS, Filipowicz AT, Chang A. 2013. Deconstructing Building Blocks: Preschoolers’ Spatial Assembly Performance Relates to Early Mathematical Skills. Child Dev. 2013 Sep 23. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12165. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Wolfgang CH, Stannard LL, and Jones I. 2003. Advanced constructional play with LEGOs among preschoolers as a predictor of later school achievement in mathematics. Early Child Development and Care 173(5): 467-475.
  • Wolfgang, Charles H.; Stannard, Laura L.; & Jones, Ithel. 2001. Block play performance among preschoolers as a predictor of later school achievement in mathematics. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 15(2), 173-180.

Happy building!

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