Child Caring

Could his mixed-age classroom intimidate this boy?

I have a son who will be five years old soon. He has been always very friendly, social and is well liked by everyone around him. He has been attending a private school that combines everyone, boys and girls, between the ages of 3 and 6 in the same classroom. He has been saying that all the "big boys" (kindergarten) are very mean in that they say "bad" words and kick each other and they are not nice to each other." He says that he doesn't like to play with them because they are "bad" boys and he is a "good" boy. I did notice that he has many girl friends in the class. But what concerns me lately is that he walks around saying "he likes girly things" and what concerns me the most is that he tries to imitate the walks, talks and the manners of girls around him and the girly characters he sees on TV. Should I be concerned about his sexuality and the sexual orientation at this time? I am afraid that he will be picked on and bullied at school. When he is with boys, he will play rough and tumble and exhibits no problem whatsoever.

From: Liz, NY

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Dear Liz,

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that I'm not a big fan of mixed-aged classrooms, especially not when there is as a wide an age-range as you describe. I know mixed-age classes have gained popularity in recent years, and I know there are lots of advantages, but your story is exactly what worries me about them: The littlest/youngest kids are often intimidated or frightened by the older kids, not because the older/bigger kids are doing something bad, just because of differences in size and energy.

I'm guessing the exuberance and the noisiness of some boys, the energy of some of them, has a tendency to intimidate your son. He's labeling the behaviors as "bad" and "mean" because those are the words available to him to describe what he's feeling, which really is a discomfort with the tendencies of these boys. I'm also betting that when he sometimes enjoys "rough and tumble play" as you describe, it happens with an already established group of boy friends who are similar to him in size and shape and whose style of play is familiar.

What he's doing makes perfect sense: He's adapting. It seems to me, this adaptation describes an accommodation to a class that includes bigger, older boys whose play is more rough and tumble than his comfort level allows. In finding a way to make himself comfortable, he's gravitating toward "girly" activities -- your word, not mine, but I get your point -- perhaps because they coincide more closely with his own interests but also maybe because it feels safe. And since he's part of what is to him a new (girl) culture, he's trying to understand it. To fit in. Does it also suggest something about his future sexual orientation? I have no idea.

No matter who he turns out to be, it seems to me the best you can do is to raise him in an environment that welcomes and celebrates all kinds of diversity. And you know what else? Start doing your share, whatever that might be, to ensure that our culture no longer tolerates kids being picked on or bullied at school because of their differences, whatever they might be. On a more nitty/gritty level, have you talked to the teacher and head of school about what's happening in this classroom? If the teacher is new, or inexperienced with a mixed-age classroom, she/he may not be picking up on the nuances you are describing.