Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Teaching Puberty: You Can Do It!

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Teaching Puberty: You Can Do It!

Article excerpt

Teaching Puberty: You Can Do It! A teacher's guide to Changes in You and Me. Toronto Public Health, 2007.

This DVD was developed by sex educators at Toronto Public Health to assist teachers who have the responsibility to teach classes in puberty at the Grade 4 to 6 level. The puberty classes taught at this level build a solid foundation for ongoing sexuality programs throughout middle and secondary school. The DVD has several parts, separated by graphics of birds and bees and fish in the seas accompanied by great samba music from Toronto's Samba Squad.


The introduction provides an overview of the DVD. The collegial, matter-of-fact, and informal tone and language of this and all health educators make the information very reassuring and accessible to teachers who might be nervous about discussing sex with their students. The presentation in all the classes alternates between the health educator speaking directly to the video audience of teachers and speaking to a class of Grade 5 students.

The health educator who introduces the DVD provides some important notes and reminders, which include:

* the DVD goes beyond the provincial expectations, so novice teachers should talk to more experienced colleagues if they choose to include some of the extensions;

* teachers should not make assumptions about their students' knowledge and experience;

* the teachers' task is to speak to their students in an honest and direct way without being overly graphic;

* it's appropriate to ask a colleague to teach your puberty classes if you are extremely uncomfortable;

* it's not necessary to ask parents for permission to teach puberty classes, but it's a good idea to inform them. A sample letter is included in the manual;

* guiding principles, e.g., Toronto Public Health believes in:

--inclusion and is positive towards people who are lesbian, bisexual gay, and transgendered;

--gender equality;


-- boys and girls taking most puberty classes together;

--supporting the development of positive self-esteem in students by making them part of the discussion. This will help them make healthy choices, e.g., whether or not to have children;

--respecting all students, including those who may be uncomfortable with the topics under discussion and those who have a need to ask uncomfortable questions.

The Voice of Experience

The first part of the DVD presents an interview with a teacher who has 18 years of experience. He admits to his initial nervousness and his need to call in a public health nurse to conduct his first puberty classes. He offers several practical strategies to help other teachers plan their puberty program:

* start your unit with a study of reproduction in other species, e.g., bacteria, plants, mammals;

* start your lesson with a video and move on to question boxes;

* make sure your students are engaged by asking them what sexual practices they've seen in movies and what topics they want to learn about;

* go beyond the biological "plumbing" to body image and other areas of student interest.

He also offers suggestions for dealing with inappropriate questions and stresses the importance for students to have a safe and comfortable place to discuss this topic.

An Introduction to Puberty

Lesson 1 begins with a warm-up exercise to involve students and make sure that no one feels singled out for being different. The educator presents guidelines for the discussions on puberty that are very similar to the usual classroom rules that teachers often develop with their students, e.g., show respect. Added to this list are a couple of pertinent notes: don't ask personal questions, don't include names in any stories that you tell. The lesson includes an exploration with the students about:

* where they can find information on puberty;

* what they need to consider, in addition to a mature body, in deciding to make a baby (noting that not everyone can or wants to make a baby, and that there is a big difference between making a baby and being a parent);

* the human life cycle and the place of puberty in this cycle;

* language. …

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