Recently, I’ve encountered a spate of acrostic poems at Girls in the Game. It began at our bi-weekly staff meetings where our Assistant Program Manager, Alecia, lead us through an acrostic activity we frequently do with girls. It’s that standard elementary school activity where you write out your name vertically on a piece of paper and then write out characteristics to describe yourself. Here was mine:
J – joking
E – easy-going
S – soccer
S – sunshine (I love the outdoors!)
As a staff, we shared our acrostics as an icebreaker activity to welcome new staff, but when we do this at programming, we start with a group discussion about in importance of names. Girls and coaches share the significance of their names and how they contribute to their unique identities. During this lesson each girl and coach finishes up with the acrostic activity.
At a recent Game Day, I was working with a couple of girls to fill in some of the harder letters, Anida being one of those girls. A for Awesome, N for Nice, I for Intelligent, D for Dolphins are my favorite animal, but then we came to a second A. After I tossed out a couple of suggestions, Anida settled on the adjective Adventurous. Struggling a bit to spell the word, she wrote “Adventurist” instead. Before she crossed it out to write the correct spelling, she laughed and announced to the group, “Adventurist… like scientist!” The girls shared a giggle, imagining what a professional adventurist might do for a career.
Anida is 9 years old (hence the difficulty of spelling adventurous). And as I looked around the circle of girls, I was thrilled to see the words that other girls in our group had chosen to describe themselves. Intelligent. Kind. Courageous (complete with an illustration of her leaping over a fire to save a baby). Smart. Brave. Loving. Vivacious. Unique. Eager. And so many uses of the word Adventurous in all of its misspellings.
If you haven’t seen the recent viral video of 8-year-old Daisy Edmonds speaking out about the messages on girls’ clothing and why it is sexist, you should definitely check it out.
This 8-year-old is able to explain with eloquence what our acrostic poems demonstrated. Girls see themselves as heroes, as adventurists. It’s a belief they hold in spite of what clothing and toy manufacturers, TV and society as a whole tells them. At least, that is, until puberty hits.
Research has shown that confidence in girls peaks at age 9 but then drops drastically afterward. As girls enter their middle school years, we see fewer and fewer adventurists; instead girls focus on their weight and appearance, while their self-esteem takes a big hit. This change is driven largely by the media, hormones and negative peer pressure.
How can we help combat the problem and change the perspective of girls and how they view themselves? Girls in the Game provides girls the social and emotional tools at age 7 that they’ll need at age 11 to get through those rough middle school years. We’re creating a safe, encouraging all-girl environment where girls find a place to step away from the relentless focus on weight and appearance. They have the opportunity to talk about healthy body image and their own identity amongst peers. Girls in the Game doesn’t stop there; we’re teaching middle school girls to be Assistant Coaches which helps build their confidence as leaders. And the leadership training continues with our Teen Squad, where teens have the opportunity to interview business professionals in their workplaces to learn about all the different (adventurous) career paths they may choose from in the future.
We have a mighty goal and vision; just as mighty as the generation of girls who are excited to see what the world has in store for them. Girls who are confident in themselves and in their identities, girls who will go out and have the courage to experience life. Girls like Daisy and Anida, true heroes and adventurists.