Get Out Of Their Way

Benny and Amelia at our beloved Milwaukee Public Museum.

I am snuggled between my kiddos, enjoying a gray and cold day nestled on the couch watching one of our “Land Before Time” movies. We’re resting after a busy, busy morning at the Rockford Children’s Museum. We met some good friends and enjoyed a couple of hours packed with science experiments, pretend play, water play, art projects, books, jumping and crawling, exploration, creativity, and make belive. 

And what I loved most? Not a single gender stereotype in any of the exhibits. Not in the vet clinic, not on the train locomotive. Not in the life size dollhouse, car repair garage, or farm exhibit. Not in any of the science component demos. That led to boys and girls of all ages running and toddling around, experiencing everything and experiencing it together. My son cared for a stuffed basset hound in the dog house while my daughter performed surgeries in the vet clinic. My daughter and her little friend changed the tire on the car up on the lift in the garage. My son fed the babies in the life size doll house and  watered the flowers in the window boxes. They all ran the locomotive, filled and refilled the coal bins, and sold tickets at the ticket booth. The girls drove the tractor in the corn harvestor simulator while the boys collected eggs in the chicken coop. They all enjoyed the art projects. They all enjoyed the science experiments. They all loved the snowboarding simulator, though on the green screen it looked less like snowboarding and more like they were being attacked by killer bees. 

Today marked the 13th or 14th trip to a museum of some kind for my family this year, and every single trip I notice that when boys and girls are in a space free of gender stereotypes or messages about gender roles, there are none reflected in their play. Both genders are super heroes. Both are servers in a restaurant, both care for babies and pets, both work on cars, both like to drive various vehicles. Both are interested in dinosaurs, bugs, and animals. Both make good doctors and are bossy when they run a grocery store. When we are in these places, free and open to exploration, that is exactly what I see take place. Let’s face it, kids can’t help themselves. If there is fun and discovery to be had, they are experts. It comes naturally to them, as it is how they learn about our world. 

But then my family returns to reality and we have to run an errand or choose to watch some tv, and there is a commercial or a toy aisle or clothing shelf that takes us right back to the sad reality that marketers have divided childhood into the boy side and girl side. It isn’t what I see through the eyes my children as I watch them devour the days of their childhood, but it is certainly what I see marketed to them. 

And I do not accept it. Not for my children, not for yours. 

I think we should just get out of their way and let them be children. 

This New Year, 2011, will bring some exciting changes to Pigtail Pals. We launch a second line in February that is a tribute to the make believe and imagination of our girls. We’ll be expanding our baby line and toys. Toys! We’ll really be focusing on media literacy and girl empowerment in our parenting. And we are furiously writing and writing as we (I) work to finish a book that will answer your questions, “How do I parent my girl despite all of this?”. 

2011 is our year, as parents, to tell the marketers and the corporations that we intend to raise media literate children, and that we want their childhood back. No more sexualization. No more gender stereotypes. 

2011 is our year to tell them, get out of the way and just let our kids be kids. They happen to be experts at it, when given the chance. 

What do you want to see or learn or have answered by Pigtail Pals in 2011? Do you have an issue or story you’d like to contribute as a guest post? What about an awesome product or book your family loves and you want us to share with our readers? What issues do you want us to focus on? If you ask for it, we’ll give it to you! 

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**Note – You’ll often see me refer to “we” when talking about Pigtail Pals. The company and blog are run by one person, me, Melissa Wardy. But Pigtail Pals’ mission to Redefine Girly? That has been taken up by thousands of families in the almost two years we’ve been in business, and “I” becomes “we” as WE all work to make our daughters stronger. Thank you for joining us, WE are happy to have YOU here!**

Girls! At Science Camp.

Brenna (12yo) uses strike magnesium flint to light a campfire.

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a family friend whose 12 year old daughter was attending a local science camp. A story had just run in our local paper, a cute little telling of the experience the 15 campers were having at Survival Science Camp being held at our local nature preserve. There was just one problem, and it was a BIG one. The article made no mention of ANY of the girls attending the camp. One third of the campers were girls, yet except for a pair of legs in an accompanying photo, you’d never know it. I’m sure it was just an oversight. Thing is, I get a little bothered when girls are overlooked. So here’s Pigtail Pals’ version of Survival Science Camp….

I arrived at Janesville’s Outdoor Science Lab feeling like a girl again. The Survival Science Campers that I was here to interview were all around twelve years old, which was the age I began working as a camp counselor, spending my next six summers at a day camp settled into the Wisconsin prairie. There are few places more pretty than Wisconsin in the summertime, and running around in the woods and stomping through rivers was a great way to come of age.

As I approached the group of parents and campers circled around the fire pit, I had to chuckle as I observed Brenna, 12 year old extraordinaire, light the camp fire with strike magnesium flint. In part, it was humorous because Brenna is the daughter of a firefighter, but also because as she did so, and the embers started smoking and then crackling, one of the boys raised his arms victoriously in the air and said “WE HAVE FIRE! We are cavemen!”. Brenna looked up at him and rolled her eyes, and I couldn’t resist. “Caveman, I think by ‘we’ you mean ‘she’. She has fire. Just sayin.”

Brenna cooks me breakfast - a chocolate chip banana split.

Brenna came over and gave me a hug and I started jumping up and down telling her how excited I was to hang out with her for the morning. I’m sure Christianne Anamanpour would have kept her cool, but I was embedded with science-loving middle school girls offering to cook me a breakfast of chocolate chip banana splits and s’mores.

“So Brenna, how did it feel to light our fire with a group of people watching you. You didn’t even use matches!” -Me

“I was happy. I’ve never done that before. I’m not allowed to light fires.” -Brenna

“What has been the coolest part about this week?” -Me

“Definitely lighting fires with flint. And finding people when they got lost. We learned a lot of new things and pushed our limits.” -Brenna

One happy sigh from me and a tummy full of camp fire melted chocolatey-goodness later, we walked around the trails so Brenna and her friends could tell me more about this week and what they learned from their fearless survival instructors, Neil Boys and David Hintze, science teachers at Parker High School here in Janesville and creators of this co-ed camp experience for junior high students.

The girls told me all about making sun dials and cooking food with natural heat and using GPS and compasses to find lost hikers in the woods. I heard all about boiling oak bark and plantain juice as natural remedies for wounds. And somehow they talked me into eating wild berries that was assured me were not poisonous.

Sun dial made by campers, which Brenna said was the most difficult project.

“So Brenna, tell me what you would say to younger girls who want to come to science camp.” -Me

“I think it is really fun. There is a lot to learn, about plants and animals and wild berries. We cooked hot dogs using tin foil and a solar cooker we made.” -Brenna

“How long did that take?” -Me

“About an hour and a half. But they were so so good.” -Brenna

“I don’t know, B. That’s a really long time to wait for a dog.” -Me

“Well, I would tell girls it is important to get outside and enjoy nature and learn about nature. Its not all about make-up and stuff. There are really neat things you can do here.” -Brenna

“Tell me more.” -Me

“Well, you can be free. You can be open. You can just be yourself. You can do anything here.”

Replica pioneer log cabin we would have called home 200 years ago.

Oh, that Brenna. See why I was jumping up and down? Next I spoke with the teachers in charge of the week, Mr. Boys and Mr. Hintze, and asked them about their thoughts on girls getting involved in math and science. Both are fathers of daughters, and they agreed that feeling comfortable in science and math can build a girl’s self esteem. The teachers had used multiple disciplines in science to teach the kids about water purification, fire building, shelter construction, and navigation. I asked them how it went to have a co-ed group of junior high aged kids, and Mr.Hintze said, “Oh, it was great. They were one big happy family. They were cooperating, both had great ideas. They would problem solve together and work together. The girls definitely spoke up when they needed to.” Mr. Boys agreed, saying that is was important for girls to feel comfortable in nature, and in taking leadership roles. He said he was proud of the girls and how they handled themselves during the week.

Brenna then led her mom and I down a winding trail in the woods to a stream. Having bad ankles, all of the rocks on the steep hill Brenna forget to mention made me a bit nervous, but I quipped she could just boil some plantain lace for me and I’d be fine. “Oh no,” Brenna sad, “That’s only for open wounds. If you sprain your ankle you’re on your own.”

Luckily, my weak ankles and I made it to the bottom in one piece. We approached the stream and Brenna wasted no time chucking off her shoes and jumping in. A few moments later one of her girlfriends came tearing across the bridge, yelling at her, “Wait! Don’t have fun without me!” as she tossed her shoes on the bank and jumped in after Brenna. Oh, happy sigh. Twelve year old girls acting like twelve year old girls, just as they should be.

Brenna and Riley examining the stream.

As if on cue, this camper walked up with a large frog in her hand

Trail down to stream.

While talking about this post on twitter, a mom from our Pigtail Pals community sent me an email with her daughter Hannah’s thoughts on science camp taking place in another state.

Here’s what Hannah had to say:

Chemistry…I felt like a scientist because I had a mask and gloves. We put a bunch of stuff in the cup and mine exploded! It was my favourite!

Biology…We dissected the stuff that owls’ throw up. There were mice bones and hair in there and stuff. It was disgusting because it smelled really bad.

Anatomy… The professor brought in a skeleton and we touched real bone. She was very interesting.

Microscopes… Very cool! She (the professor) had our names on there the first day as a surprise. Looking at the germs was really interesting because they were breathing and alive. One had a whole bunch of points, and one had like a hair moving around. We got them from the fish tank. They kind of freaked me out!

Astronomy… I loved the star dome. They talked all about the constellations and it was dark so you could see all of them.  I got dizzy at part of it because I couldn’t see. One of the teachers fell asleep! (a university student lol)

My least favourite part was the nature walk because it was too hot. Everything else was fun.

And that my friends, is how girls do science camp.

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New Designs! 3 New Tees

Here are the much anticipated new designs for Spring 2010!

It was a lot of fun coming up with these, and all three received very positive feedback during our conference last weekeend. We’ll be adding yoga pants, shorts, ball caps, and little treats like stickers and pencils very soon! Our three new designs will be available for order April 1st!

"Always looking for a great sail..."

I love this sailing design because in the “When I Dream” video (our Pigtail Pals theme song by Jill Dawson) there is a picture of me as a child of seven years old sailing on one of my dad’s sailboats. I grew up sailing, it was our family past time. In high school I joined Sea Scouts and raced competitively around the Great Lakes. One of the best accomplishments I’ve ever had was sailing a 30 foot boat by myself on San Diego Bay with a crew of six.

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"She's got a bone to pick..."

This design is in honor of my daughter, the Original Pigtail Pal, whose complete obsession with dinosaurs has her thinking she is a dinosaur. She has gone so far as to tell her preschool teachers and swimming lesson instructors to call her “Amelia Dinosaur”. I think this is fantastic, except for one thing. There is not a stitch of clothing for girls that has a dinosaur on it. So we have had to shop in the boy’s department. Until now!

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"Cooking up something great..." Find the Cure

I am really proud of this design for two reasons. First, it is the only Breast Cancer Awareness tee that shows a girl finding the cure. For young girls who have a family member going through Breast Cancer treatments, this has become a coat of armor for them. Also, for really little girls who cannot yet read, the words “Find the Cure” on a t-shirt don’t mean anything to them. This design speaks to them in a language they understand – pictures.

This design is also in honor of a mentor of mine. When I first launched Pigtail Pals, I was very cautious to make sure my designs were diverse, kind of representing all races and no races all at the same time. Dr. Venus Evans-Winters taught me why that didn’t work. It was an important lesson for me, and I am thankful she took the time to make our conversation a teachable moment. When bridges for communication and understanding are built, barriers can be knocked down.