Recently, I was spending time with my six year old cousin who is full of adventure, thought, and imagination. She introduced me to a game that involves moving a toy car around a game board. Of course you need people in a car to drive it, so you can choose a character to be the driver and another character to be the passenger. She told me to choose two characters - one for the driver's seat, and one for the passenger. I took a female character and placed her in the driver's seat, and then I placed a male character in the passenger seat. It wasn't a conscious choice - in fact, I didn't know the characters had sexes until my cousin told me so. But my cousin was quite confused by my placement of the people in the car.
"The boy should drive, not the girl," my cousin said as she promptly switched the two characters in the car.
"Why can't the girl drive?" I asked.
"Because boys are better drivers than girls."
I paused for a moment to try and gather my thoughts - how do I explain gender roles to a six year old? I was also a bit shocked to see gender role stereotypes so prominent at such a young age.
I thought this was an excellent learning opportunity. I first took a humourous approach - I told her that I was a much better driver than most of my guy friends. She was intrigued. I then asked her if she thinks her mom is a good driver, and she said yes. She finally started to realize that girls are good drivers too!
I think that you can approach any topic related to gender, gender roles, sexuality and so on in an age-appropriate way. As long as the conversation is relevant and meaningful, you can make powerful, positive educational experiences that hopefully makes a difference in peoples' lives.