OBSERVATIONS · raising strong girls

Play Nice in the Corn Bin

If you had told me ten years ago that I’d be taking my daughter to a fun farm and watching her play with toy John Deere vehicles in a corn bin, I would’ve told you that you were crazy. Ten years ago I was living in Manhattan and I doubt I would’ve put the words corn and bin in the same sentence. (Unless, of course, it would’ve been “Please buy me more candy corn from the bin on the bulk foods aisle.”)  Fast forward to yesterday and I was watching my daughter play with delight in the corn bin at a local family fun farm.

We found our friend, in yellow, playing with the blue BOY bucket upon our third trip back to the corn bin. Isabelle was just as happy to play with the pink one as she was the blue one.
We found our friend, in yellow, playing with the blue BOY bucket upon our third trip back to the corn bin. Isabelle was just as happy to play with the pink one as she was the blue one.

We took three separate trips to the corn bin during our time at the farm. The second time something really unexpected happened.  I found myself defending Isabelle’s right to use a boy bucket in the corn bin.  Here’s what happened.

My daughter was playing with a John Deere tractor and a blue action heroes bucket inside of the corn bin when a group of little boys entered the corn bin.  One of the boys marched right over to Isabelle and tried to snatch the bucket she was playing with. Since she doesn’t have the words to defend her inalienable right to use the bucket, I stepped in to be her voice.

“She’s playing with that bucket.  You may play with that one,” I said pointing to a second, unused bucket on the opposite end of the corn bin.

The boy turned and wrinkled his nose. “That bucket is for girls. This bucket,” he said as he bent over towards Isabelle, “is for boys.”

“These buckets are for everyone,” I said putting my hand in-between him and the bucket.

“But that one is pink and has princesses. It’s a girl bucket!” he said angrily.

“Both of the buckets are for everyone. Boys and girls can play with both buckets,” I said firmly.

He started getting louder. “I want that bucket!” he said pointing towards Isabelle who didn’t seem to understand what the fuss was all about.

Just then one of the little boy’s friends dove across the corn bin and grabbed the pink princess bucket and began dumping corn into it.

“See,”I said calmly. “He’s playing with that bucket. The buckets are for everyone.”

I really wanted to see the expression on my husband’s face, but he was standing off to my right, and I didn’t dare take my eyes off of the little boy who looked like he was going to grab the bucket away from Isabelle (and probably wanted to throw corn in my face by this point!).

The little boy stamped his foot and whined at which point his grandmother got involved. She called his name, “Devin*!” (Name has been changed.)

He stamped his foot in the corn again. I stood there and watched, wondering what she’d do next.

“Devin! Play nice or you’ll have to come here.”

Seriously? That’s the response! 

He looked down and stamped his foot one more time.  Thankfully the corn kernels didn’t fly too far.

“Devin! She’s playing with that bucket now. Find something else to play with.”

Really? Really!?!!? Why didn’t she tell him to wait his turn or to play with the pink bucket in the first place?

Meanwhile, Isabelle kept playing in the corn bin ’til we encouraged her to go to the straw castle at which point Devin swooped in and grabbed the blue, boy bucket.

* * * * *

We returned to the corn bin 15 – 20 minutes later and found Devin and his cousin playing with the blue boy bucket on the other end of the corn bin. He looked up, saw me, and turned his back.  Isabelle began playing with the pink bucket, which wasn’t being used, and a tractor. Once Devin saw Isabelle wasn’t a threat to his blue bucket, he slowly turned his body towards us. Once we we got up to leave, I said “good-bye” to him and his family and so did Isabelle.  He said, “Say bye to my pop-pop!” And so I did.

But I was left wondering this: Did Devin learn anything today?  It’s doubtful. In order to challenge stereotypes and expand gender notions, children need to see these things modeled in their daily lives. Isabelle was content to play with the trucks and the the blue action figures bucket because she has toys like this at home. She plays with stuffed animals and has a dollhouse too. However, she knows that she can play with a variety of toys.

When I was reflecting on this situation last night, I sat in my office wondering what I can do, as a parent, to help other kids realize that toys and colors are for everyone. Change like this is much easier when you’re a teacher rather than just another kid’s parent.  Do I just have to start with my small corner of the world (i.e., my kid) and hope other people will do the same… eventually?

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21 thoughts on “Play Nice in the Corn Bin

  1. My SOL post this week is/was (going to be / in draft from at this moment) about my experience last week with first graders. In a nutshell, the story had a pink, blue and yellow bird and the group had two boys and a girl. The boys insisted the girl be the pink bird. I wanted everyone to try all three parts. I finally had to say that the books were very, very old (they were) and that the birds were really supposed to be red, blue, and yellow. MY OWN response to the situation bothered me all day! Thank you for taking on notions about gender issues!

  2. Ok, after reading your post, I just had to jump in on this conversation. It’s alarming that the parents of the boy failed to make a teaching point of this. I immediately connected because my house is ripe for action research on the topic today! It’s Nattie’s birthday today-we had her party yesterday! I’m proud to say she got both girl and boy dolls-she proudly named the boy “Mason”. My boy, Kam, is making rubber band bracelets using all the colors of the rainbow. So I asked him, “If there was one bucket left in the sandbox (cornbin) and you wanted to play with it, would you still play with it if it was pink?” He said, “Mom, of course, the color doesn’t matter. There’s no assigned color to boys or girls.” -thank goodness he had such a sensible answer. He continued, “I put all colors in my bracelets-they aren’t just boy or girl bracelets.” Funny huh? Also, I think Nattie has been brought up that toys are toys. She’s got all the hand-me-down toys from Kam and she plays equally with trains, cars etc. things some people tend to link with boys…interesting topic to think about Stacey!

    1. Thank you for asking Kam this question, Amy. I LOVED his answer (obviously) since it was full of sensibility. It’s evident you have taught your child that there aren’t any boy or girl colors… and so much more!

  3. This is such an important issue, and when it comes up unexpectedly (in a corn bin with another child ready to snatch something out of your child’s hand) you don’t have the time to think through all the possible ways to approach it. I think you handled it beautifully, by showing your child that the other child’s behavior was inappropriate, not hers, and explaining why in direct terms. You can’t control the other family, but you did make your point, and they backed you up as far as their perception of the situation allowed them to. At least they’re not raising a bully, even if at heart they have a narrower view of the pink-blue issue.

    1. A very good reply. I find the suggestion that the families reaction was “alarming” to be way over the top. Annoying or disappointing more accurately describe how I view the boys family. I would also like to empathize with them as it seems a grandparent who may be more worn out and have very different opinions on society,was caring for the child. They tried to correct the child’s aggressive behavior and did not permit the child to take a toy away from a smaller less verbal child. In the old days that was probably all that would be required. How could this person know that they were meant to do that AND get on the gender soapbox as well? I get it, and don’t endorse gender stereotypes at all but I try to be understanding of others as well.

      Did Devin learn anything you asked? I think so. He learned from his family that aggressive behavior is unacceptable. He learned from you that females can play with blue buckets and he learned from the other boy that it is okay for boys to play with pink stuff.

      These moments were not without value even though the blogger seems the believe it was entirely negative. While it is not fun to have our beliefs challenged by others we encounter in this world, the bloggers child also got to see her own families values backed up by Mom and another child as well. I think everyone learned, even though it was certainly negative when the boy was attempting to abscond with her bucket.

  4. Hi Stacey –
    I think you did a wonderful job advocating for your daughter while also respecting the other little boy and stretching his frame of reference a bit. He may not have been receptive to the message that day, but hopefully next time your words will have planted a seed that can grow and help to challenge the messages about gender he is learning.
    Nice work, Mama!

  5. Just a quick response here, but what about the toy companies who cater to these gender roles by making the buckets?
    I don’t think the enemy is the little boy in the corn bin. He was only responding to the culture in which he lives. I do think we can change this, but it will be slow. I already see a huge shift from when my kids were little. It’s happening.

    1. This is totally a toy company issue. So much of what’s out there is either pink or blue. We try to buy gender neutral toys as much as possible, but I will tell ya, it can be hard (unless you’re buying wooden toys or on Etsy).

  6. Actually…I think those of our generation…mine…are so used to this, we inadvertently cater to the whole gender thing. It is a helpful reminder…I don’t always have to find a ‘boy’ to create happiness or less stress in my classroom also. I can find a hysterical girl main character to satisfy all. Thanks for the reminder- what troubles me is that this little boy seemed very disrespectful, at a young age. xo

  7. I thought I had commented, read it when you posted, & now I’m back after reading Anita’s post too. Argh, it’s such a huge deal to me. I had an argument at a store once that labeled their toy aisles “boys” and “girls”. As I told Anita, the two granddaughters’ favorites lately are hand-me-down FP adventure people, from Mom and Uncle (I saved them) to cousin Carter, & now to them. Jeeps and tents and wild animals for a safari, you get the picture. What I can’t understand is why the toy companies don’t realize that both sexes love lots of different, & imaginative, toys. Your experience shows how ingrained it is already at a young child’s age (the little boy). You were such a good model for Isabelle, and actually for the little boy. Thanks for sharing Stacey.

  8. Sometimes experiences like this make it seem like we haven’t made much progress at all with gender stereotypes, but I can see progress with my students and what they choose to read. Girls are generally more willing to read books with female or male protagonists, but I’m seeing more and more boys choose to read books with female protagonists–and not just Katniss in the Hunger Games. Just today one of my boys picked up INVISIBLE WORLD by Suzanne Weyn. He didn’t care at all that the main character is female. Instead he was excited because the book promised excitement with exorcism and witchcraft (it’s about the Salem Witch Trials, where witchcraft does exist).

  9. We are so heavily influenced by society on this issue. There are times when I think we are making strides, then I hear stories like this.

    It’s a shame that the parent didn’t handle things better.

  10. Devin sounds like he needs some guidance about sharing and being polite. I like the way you turned this into a leaning opportunity for him, though…he may well have learned something.

  11. I love how you kept calmly reinforcing the idea that both buckets were for everyone, Stacey. I’m in awe whenever I read one of your parenting (well, or teaching!) posts — you are such an expert at how to talk to kids! You are doing such a fantastic job in your corner that I’m sure it will spread! 🙂

  12. It is sad when we watch boys like Devin in action. Boys who don’t understand that their words and actions mean something and that those words and actions can be something good when modeled as you said. So often parents and adults have no concept of how to handle such situations. You did a perfect job, stating the facts and not getting emotional. He may not have learned the point you were trying to make however, based on his response to have you say goodbye to his pop pop, makes me think he connected to you in some way. He is probably a child who is screaming out for limits and no one is giving them to him. You showed him his behavior was inappropriate in a very appropriate way. I think he probably appreciated this little lesson whether he took away the big meaning or not.

  13. These kind of situations always floor me. Amazing how early we begin to teach our kids, even through colors, about “girl” and “boy” things. Can’t even tell you how many conversations I have had with my sons about sexism…

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