A teacher looks out on a sea of diversity when s/he looks at the students in any 4th or 5th grade classroom in the New Haven Public Schools where puberty education is part of the K-12 Social Development curriculum. The goals of puberty education are to help young people feel good about themselves as they grow and develop, to provide a healthy environment for beginning to learn about sexuality as a positive aspect of being human, and to begin to arm them with the knowledge, skills and attitudes they’ll need to protect themselves against early pregnancy and diseases, including HIV/AIDS. The students are diverse in many ways, any one of which can have an affect both on their ability and willingness to learn about puberty and on the teacher’s strategies for teaching.
My objectives in writing this curriculum unit are: to highlight the ways in which children are diverse as they progress through puberty; to address the specific educational needs of the 20% who may be “precocious” in becoming sexually active(1); to look at puberty education through the lens of Dr. James Comer’s developmental pathways; and to integrate the social and emotional skills taught through
(the Social Development Curriculum for grades four and five) with puberty education so they can be learned in a more organic and holistic way.
The strategies I plan to use follow. I will describe and document student diversity and delineate the needs of the 20% who may be engaging in sexual behavior that puts them at risk of pregnancy and disease. I will design lesson variations to meet the widely diverse developmental needs of the regular class and of the smaller group of sexually precocious children. By this I mean, for example, that if a child feels pressured to have sex, s/he needs to feel a stronger sense of self and his/her own values in order to resist the pressure; if a child is physically developed and awkward and self-conscious, s/he needs to understand the normalcy and transience of puberty; if a child feels eager to “try sex out,” it would be developmentally appropriate to provide information, to analyze societal influences toward early sex, and to encourage delaying sex. But if s/he “doesn’t want to wait” (exact words of a fifth grader this year), it is also developmentally appropriate to help them learn safer sex information and skills. This can be facilitated by separating students into developmentally homogeneous groups so that sexually precocious children will participate in additional lessons which directly address their more urgent needs. I will summarize the content of Dr. James Comer’s developmental pathways and the behavioral skills lessons taught in the
curriculum. I have included a chart aligning all these components for easy reference as a reminder and a tool to help teachers integrate the puberty, social skills and developmental concepts they are conveying to their students. Some sample lesson plans and the integration chart provide specific role-play situations, case studies and other activities which explicitly connect puberty education to the social skills lessons.