A Kindergarten teacher in Bainbridge Island, Washington, is not letting the boys in her classroom play with Legos in an attempt to help the girls build their spatial and math skills.
Karen Keller has been teaching at Captain Johnston Blakely Elementary since 2008, the Bainbridge Review reported. She noticed an ongoing trend during playtime: the girls would play with dolls, and the boys would play with building blocks.
Keller did some research and concluded that the girls were missing out. She found that Lego play is widely attributed to accelerating development and helping children with their spatial and math skills.
The kindergarten teacher told the Bainbridge Review that she believes women are being socialized based on gender stereotypes from a young age. She places some of that blame on LEGO and on teachers as well.
“The stuff LEGO is marketing for girls is just so limiting,” Keller said. “I just feel like we are still so far behind in promoting gender equity.”
Now, Keller is doing something about it.
During the month of September, she conducted a classroom experiment to see if girls would develop different toy preferences if given the opportunity. Keller tried enticing them with pink and purple LEGOs at first, but it didn’t work.
When the Bainbridge Schools Foundation announced its Classroom Enrichment Grants, Keller asked for funding to purchase LEGO Education Community Starter Kits for three Blakely classrooms. She stated that “while it’s not necessary to board up the playhouse and adopt the babies out, concrete steps can be taken to ameliorate the gender gap in the kindergarten and present engaging ways to develop girls’ spatial skills.”
What Keller didn’t mention in her request was that boys were not going to be allowed to play with the 1,907-piece set.
“I had to do the ‘girls only Lego club’ to boost it more,” Keller said. “Boys get ongoing practice and girls are shut out of those activities, which just kills me. Until girls get it into their system that building is cool, building is ‘what I want to do’ - I want to protect that."
Keller believes her experiment is fair “because fair is getting what you need to succeed or to get better.” While she sees more girls playing with building blocks than ever before, she said it’s still not the norm.
The Bainbridge Island School District said the “girls only Lego club” has been put to an end, according to a follow-up article from the Bainbridge Review. Spokeswoman Galen Crawford issued the following statement:
“Following the release of a recent news article, the Bainbridge Island School District (BISD) has received inquiries that reflect inaccurate perceptions about student access to Legos in Karen Keller’s kindergarten classroom at Blakely Elementary School. In keeping with a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education grant, Ms. Keller gave girls a designated time to play with the building toys during a 30-minute 'free-choice' time block in September 2015. This isolated, short-term practice ended in October. All students in all classrooms have and will continue to have access to all instructional and noninstructional materials.”
Keller has reportedly received hateful phone calls and Facebook messages since her experiment made headlines. She released a statement through the school district to address the issue, according to Fox News.
"I proposed allowing girls to have an unencumbered opportunity to become more comfortable working with Legos in an attempt to support girls with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)," her statement read. "I treat all of my students with equal respect and kindness. Every student in my class has access to all curricular material, including Legos."