One of the most challenging subjects that early childhood educators deal with is sexual harassment. There are many issues to consider when thinking about teaching children about violence, especially sexual violence. Most teachers will tell you how uncomfortable they are talking to children about topics that can be taboo in their culture. How parents will react is another concern for schools.
How does the education community incorporate sexual violence into their curriculums properly?
As an expert in sexual harassment, Dr. Ayelet Giladi is a passionate and mission-driven advocate for giving children a voice that will empower them to speak up and out. She is the powerful energy behind The Voice of the Child, a global organization specializing in the development and implementation of programs (online and in-person) to educate adults who work with children to prevent sexual harassment amongst children from an early age.
When teachers and care providers think about sexual violence and harassment, they can freeze up, not knowing the right words. Sexual harassment is already a complex subject for adults to deal with, so think about how much more difficult it is to talk and teach to children about it. The Taking A Stand Course is about giving teachers/advocates the voice they need to appropriately educate children on this very serious and uncomfortable topic.
In Taking A Stand: Helping Children Use Critical Thinking to Prevent Violence and Sexual Abuse, the children begin their education through three friends: the turtle, the snail, and the frog. Nothing is scary or intimidating about these three characters. And their lessons to children? Critical thinking. The program that Dr. Giladi and the VOCA team created focuses on empowering children with the essential tools of thinking they need to know what to do when things are not right. That is what every parent wishes for their child: To think, say something, and act. Herein lies the beauty of the Taking A Stand Program for children 5 to 9 years old.
Instead of layers of complicated psychological materials, the program uses the turtle to represent a child’s respect for themselves, their environment, their peers, and their own physical body. The snail is all about dignity. When we feel proud of ourselves, we stand tall, just like the snail that carries its head above its body. And the frog represents equality because the concept of equality is not an easy value for the children to understand. The reason it is the frog is that he jumps equally from land to water. Children get to know “equal” in visual terms. When a frog is threatened, he will jump from water to land, and if danger approaches on land, he can quickly get back into the water and be safe.
The focus and real gift of the Taking A Stand characters are how they are teaching and empowering small children to know their value.
For Dr. Giladi, teachers must learn the roots of sexual harassment before anything else. Understanding where these complex subjects begin, asking hard questions, and then reflecting on them. This allows teachers to include themselves in groundbreaking thinking and training principles for lasting change. Educators must have all the proper training and gain the confidence to discuss these topics with children – teachers have the responsibility to advocate for their wellbeing.
“As a society, it is our responsibility to bring our resources, time, and abilities to the prevention of sexual harassment at this early developmental stage in children before further learned behaviors become habitual influences which later wreak so much damage,” says Dr. Gilati. “Sexual abuses at an early age can play out as a lifetime economic burden of further sexual abuse and rape for its many victims and much effort, time, and effect for the medical and psychological practitioners who must cope with it.”
Dr. Giladi centers her research and the subsequent sharing of her Voice of the Child Association educational programs in the prevention of sexual harassment and abuse over three levels:
“Because we are working with such young and developing children – my programs are taught to students as young as five years of age.” Giladi continues. “I focus my programs through the global education system in delivering social and emotional learning, but it is just as important to engage families and the greater community at the same time.”
“While participants might have cultural and ethnic differences, we can actively engage every community no matter their country or background orientation.”
Following her research doctorate and subsequent ten years’ experience as manager of Early Childhood programs at the Research Institute for Innovation in Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Dr. Giladi continues to roll out her programs for school students.
Through educational facilities for children as young as five and as old as 18, VOCA brings its programs into diverse communities around the globe. It is their mission to give educators the tools they need to empower children. “In many ways, society has become immune to sexual harassment and other gender abuses, so much so that adults, let alone children, are unable to identify when it takes place or understands how to manage or respond to it.
“We have allowed gender inequality to become normalized behavior in mainstream society. I cannot tell you how many educators who have been through my workshops and other well-educated delegates who have attended my seminars have said to me: ‘I didn’t realize at the time, but I was a victim of sexual harassment. I can now see just how much it affected my life.”
This is the understanding that Dr. Giladi and VOCA want to bring to the world. “We need to start by empowering our children with their skill set of tools in its prevention into the future.”
This is where bringing in the three characters makes an impact. You are talking about installing core values that children need to speak out about when something is not right. The turtle is talking about respecting and caring for our own body, the earth, and the communities we live in. If a child learns to care about themselves, they will recognize when others are not respecting them. These characters make all the uncomfortable fear of teaching this to children less scary and difficult.
Most recently, VOCA decided to offer its programs online through the Global Childhood Academy Platform. “We are talking about creating change in the same thing,” Dr. Giladi recently told us. Educating adults who teach and care for the global child is how lasting change will occur in the future. Programs like Taking A Stand are just the kind of skills that today’s educators need to empower children. Offering them online so that more people worldwide can have access to this kind of expertise and knowledge is right in line with what The Voice of the Child is all about.
To learn more about the VOCA Online Course, click here.
Originally posted on June 9, 2020 by Voice of the Child