Wear What You Want: Pushing Back Against Restrictive “Norms”

This week we shared a number of potent stories about children getting to choose what they wear even though they face serious social pressure NOT to wear their preferred garments.

These books provide a springboard from which to talk about self expression, gender norms, social pressure, teasing, and bullying. We can help open the door wider to allow freer, easier access for all people despite the oppressive forces at hand. We can remind children that girls and women’s value is much more than our appearances and that boys and men can choose to be fancy or pretty while still being fully male. 

We invited children to make their own paper dolls and dress each person however they like. We talked about the things each child likes to do, eat and wear. We noted these things about us–our favorite activities, foods, colors– remain the same despite what outfit we decide to don or what we look like on the exterior.

We noticed which characters in each story helped to back characters who dared to step outside of their prescribed lane.  And we talked a bit about using our voices to speak out against teasing. 

Recommended Children’s Picture Books Pushing Back Against Restrictive Gender Dress Norms:
  • Annie’s Plaid Shirt by Stacy B. Davids and Rachael Balsaitis
  • Dress Like A Girl by Patricia Toht and Lorian Tu-Dean
  • I Love My Purse by Belle Demont and Sonja Wimmer
  • Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress by Christine Baldachhino and Isabela Melaenfant
  • Pink Is For Boys by Robb Pearlman and Eda Kaban

Wear What You Want: Pushing Back Against Gender Norms

Gender socialization is a strong cultural force. Our young ones are learning scripted gender norms from the world around them (families, friends, books, movies, grocery stores…) whether we want them to or not. Gender socialization and gender stereotypes dictate restricted ideas of what females can do and what males can do. Gender socialization tells us that only half the population gets access to certain ways of being, expression, clothing, roles, behavior, occupations, etc., while the other half of the population gets access to a distinct set. They’re hard on all humans, putting us into boxes with little room to fully be and express ourselves. 

If we want all children to have full access to their authentic self-expression, we need to confront gender stereotypes, expose our young ones to people who dare to step outside those norms and be in continual conversation with our children to help them think critically and act from expansiveness, kindness, and acceptance.

This week, we focus on two poignant books about children getting to choose what they wear even though they face serious social pressure NOT to wear their preferred garments.

In Annie’s Plaid Shirt, Annie has a favorite plaid shirt that she loves wearing, but when it’s time for her to attend a wedding, her mom expects her to wear a fancy, frilly dress. While some girls might be excited about donning a dress, Annie is definitely not. Annie’s brother has her back. Together they devise a plan for Annie to wear something she’s comfortable with while still honoring the societal expectations to dress up for a special occasion. 

In Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, Morris eagerly dresses up in tangerine dress at play time. His peers are quick to let him know their displeasure and discomfort, mirroring the rigid gender norms they’ve internalized. “Dresses are for girls.” Initially Morris’s classmates tease him and leave him out of their play. Luckily, Morris has solid support from his mom and some serious self-confidence. Ultimately, Morris’s playfulness and imagination win over his skeptical peers. Morris gets to wear the lovely dress he adores while having his friends at his side.

These two books provide a springboard from which to talk about self expression, gender norms, social pressure, teasing, and bullying. We can help open the door wider to allow freer, easier access for all people despite the oppressive forces at hand. 

Note: HFP does not own the rights to these stories. Please support the official books. If you opt to purchase copies, we encourage you to do so via an independent bookstore.

Further Reading Suggestion: How Children Address Gender Assumptions and Try On Identities

Powerful Words, Important Voices.

Image: VoxAlt JAMES RHEE

Using words to share wishes, thoughts and ideas is essential to co-creating the world we desire. Humans need ongoing support to help identify our feelings, wishes and ideas. Young children need lots of practice to express themselves fully, and they need support to act from their best places of engagement. As we each work to know ourselves, to ground ourselves and to use our voices to advocate for ourselves, family, friends and neighbors, we can co-create life experiences we desire. We can overcome challenging distress patterns and feelings that may otherwise interfere with having a big life and stepping toward our big ideas.

Those targeted by oppression (females, people who are BIPOC, LGBTQ, neurodiverse or have differing abilities) face greater obstacles in having their voices heard. This week’s stories focuses on three different girls overcoming obstacles to access their most powerful selves.

Both of these powerful picture books feature children who overcome challenges and effectively use their voices. In the first story, Willow’s quiet voice is often not heard. Her whispering voice and shyness impede her ability to get her needs met.  With practice and support, Willow finds and uses her big voice! 

The second story is based on the true story of Kamala and Maya–when Vice President Kamala Harris and her sister were children. They’ve got a BIG idea of having a slide outside their building and they work hard together to make it happen. They talk to lots of people– including the landlord of their building– draw pictures and write a letter. They use their words and passion to make their big idea a reality!

Craft: Make a Microphone

  • Use a paper towel roll or a toilet paper roll.
  • Decorate it with stickers, paper and markers to make your own microphone.

The text and ideas shared in this blog post are excerpted from this past week’s curriculum subscription. Playschool subscriptions include curated stories, activities, crafts, videos, artwork, suggested outings, parenting resources, and a suggested activism around a particular theme. 

Treasuring Trees: Tree Enthusiast Visits HFP

We welcomed Joan from the Talk About Trees program to teach us about seeds and cones. After hearing an overview, pretending to be trees drinking water through our roots, and identifying which trees have leaves and which have needles, we walked around the school to inspect and collect a bagful of tree treasures.


A few families ventured to this week’s suggested site: Lone Fir Cemetery, Portland’s second largest arboretum. They searched and found the very first tree planted from which the cemetery was named.

O. brought home her collected tree treasures then collaged them onto a toilet paper roll to make a tree doll!

We look forward to welcoming Joan back next month to focus on the life cycle of trees!

Honoring the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
As we celebrate your life and legacy today, we remember to continue to spread love and build power. #MLKDay- Black Lives Matter
Activist Linda Sarsour on Dr. King: “Every year, I find it necessary to remind us of the true and authentic Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He is not a historical figure left for you to mold in the way that suits your own personal views. He was a flawed leader who committed himself to uplifting Black People and alleviate suffering of the poor. He died with few friends. He was ostracized and marginalized when he decided to unequivocally stand up against the war in Vietnam, decry capitalism and militarism. He criticized white moderates and pointed out that they were often the obstacles to transformative change and progress because they were more committed to order than justice.
He was labeled an extremist, a communist, the organizations he organized with were blacklisted by the US Government. Then FBI Director J Edgar Hoover called him the “most dangerous Negro in America,” he wrote us a letter from the Birmingham Jail. White organizations and donors stripped him of funding when they didn’t approve of his message and evolution in understanding the roots of oppression. When he ventured out of the box they saw fit for him – they jumped ship leaving the civil rights movement to struggle – and STILL THEY SURVIVED.
Ahistorical posts about MLK serve to rewrite history in a way that hurts and decontextualizes the movements we are a part of today. It’s a new day but the same old cycle of whitewashing history.
I honor the imperfect, anti-war, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, Black Christian Baptist Minister, radical revolutionary Dr. King. The Dr. King that 66% of Americans at the time DID NOT agree with. I honor a man who was murdered at the hands of white supremacy that is flourishing today – 53 years after his assassination.
That’s my Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Hope he’s yours.”
Let’s invite young children into conversations, celebrations and actions  valuing Black lives, non-violence and justice. We recently got to celebrate the major victory of a mostly female, Black-led movement to overturn voter suppression in Georgia, and thereby elect the first Black senator and Jewish senator to Georgia! This week we celebrate another profound victory: the first woman, first Black and first South Asian will be sworn into office as the Vice President  by Judge Sonia Sotomayer, the first Puerto Rican woman to serve as a judge in the U.S. federal court. 
Here’s a glimpse into last year’s classroom activities related to Martin Luther King Jr. and Ruby Bridges: