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Dartmouth Grade 1 class pens letter to Old Navy

"It wasn't that long ago, and if you wanted to build a shelf in junior high and take woodworking, only boys were allowed to do that and only girls were allowed to learn cooking and sewing"
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Male and female gender symbols on a chalkboard

Kim Campbell's Primary and Grade 1 students at Hawthorn Elementary School in Dartmouth are always up for a discussion.

The most recent in-class debate was sparked by a book about a boy who likes "girly" things.

"As with most discussions it started with a storybook," Campbell tells NEWS 95.7's The Todd Veinotte Show.

Campbell says her students talk a lot about gender, including stereotypes that go with being a boy or a girl.

"Some kids will say oh those are boys shoes, or that shirt is pink, it's a girl's shirt," she says. "But it's not your hair or your shoes or your clothes or your activities, none of this makes you a boy or girl, it's all your brain."

The teacher says that the most recent book brought up a question about marketing at the store closest to the school -- Old Navy.

"Their ads on the radio [say] girl's and women's tights on sale," Campbell explains. "And we have students, girls and boys who wear tights, so that got us into a discussion."

The five-and-six-year-olds, along with their teacher, decided to tell Old Navy their gendered ads were out of date, in the form of a letter.

"We thought well maybe we should let Old Navy know. So they dictated a letter, I wrote it. We sent it off and Old Navy replied within a couple of days," says Campbell.

Campbell included a photo of the class along with the letter, which was written in the student's own words.

"It was, 'Dear Old Navy, please change the way you advertise clothes. Boys like to wear tights too, clothes are clothes,'" she says.

Campbell says the answer from a customer relations rep came within a few days and didn't feel like a generic response.

"She said we encourage people to shop everywhere, but you've made valid points and we are examining our advertising and how binary they often are," she says.

Campbell says some of her students were eager to see updated advertising at the stores right away, but she thinks it might be a long process.

"I think they wanted, well, are they changing it tomorrow? And I said no I think we have to write back," she says.

But Campbell's Primary-1 class isn't stopping there. To keep Old Navy's attention, the class will be designing alternative ads of their own.

"I think they'd be really into coming up with their own ads to give these adults some suggestions of younger people," says Campbell.

The teacher says her students are creative and open-minded, and Campbell is teaching the next generation that gender doesn't mean pink for girls and blue for boys.

"It wasn't that long ago, and if you wanted to build a shelf in junior high and take woodworking, only boys were allowed to do that and only girls were allowed to learn cooking and sewing," she explains.

Campbell says that she teaches concepts like gender to her students in small increments.

"It's a little bit over a long period of time. Because it's so huge," she adds.

As a teacher, Campbell says it's important to teach concepts like this during childhood, rather than trying to "teach an old dog new tricks."

"Grown-up language, it's so binary, it's either boy or girl, and it's ingrained over time," she says. "I don't think a lot of the kids had that yet, and I'm trying to prevent that, to empower them."



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Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

Victoria is HalifaxToday.ca's weekend editor and a Halifax-based freelancer. She is originally from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.
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