It’s March and among other things it means that it is time to reflect on the accomplishments of women. For me, this means creating another Women’s History Challenge for my school’s 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students. I started this event almost ten years ago as a way for our school, a private girls school – the oldest in New Jersey, to honor women. It is an enrichment opportunity and is optional, though every year at least twenty to twenty-five students eagerly participate. The Challenge consists of researching ten women plus another of their choice. The girls have six weeks to complete their research. In mid-February, I present the list of women for that year. Then the students who decide to participate work independently completing their research by the end of March. While the students are busy researching and writing, I create a Women’s History Challenge quiz show in the form of a slideshow. There are ten questions focusing on the lives of each women. Also, I gather pictures of the women who the students have chosen for their independent projects. In early April, we all gather to share information and celebrate the girls’ hard work researching. The celebration is in the form of an elegant tea party. I got this idea from feminist artist Judy Chicago’s installation – The Dinner Party, which honors the lives of 39 women.
We prepare a large classroom in the style of high tea: lace table cloths, colorful tea pots, vases of flowers, and table settings in springtime colors. There is the traditional tea menu: tea sandwiches, tea breads, shortbread, sugar cookies, fruit salad, and an assortment of flavored teas. As the participants enter the room, you can feel the energy and see the excitement on their faces. The girls are ready to share what they’ve learned and also eager to taste the treats and plop one or two sugar cubes in their teacups. I learned that sugar cubes are a much favored treat with eight to eleven year old girls!
During the tea we have the quiz show and girls take turns answering questions about the featured women. The emphasis is on the knowledge they uncovered. There are no losers here. They are all winners because they have learned how to conduct research and found out about women they had not previously known. After the quiz show, each girl presents information the women they individually research. We ask questions and marvel about the lives of the women we had honored that year. It is one of my favorite school celebrations.
Last year, we had to create a virtual tea part due to COVID-19. I was worried that it would not be as special because I could not set up the high tea finery or prepare the luscious treats. But I was wrong. Even virtually, the girls happily celebrated and their individual presentations were even more spectacular. This year, I’m in the midst of planning our second virtual tea. Since we are lucky to have a hybrid/in-person schedule, the girls will be taking home a treat bag and then zooming into our virtual tea when then return home in the afternoon.
When preparing for the Women’s History Challenge, I have learned so much about all different women in all different walks of life. I try to gather a diverse list every year. Some years, I focus on women in the arts or women in science. This year, I chose women, most of whom I had not heard of before but who had picture books written about them. Every year I learn something new, and the students learn to be curious and are inspired by so many women role models. I wouldn’t be surprised that one day they may have a book written about them that other children will read and be inspired by.
Recent Picture Books About Ten Remarkable Women
- Celia Cruz – My Name is Celia by Monica Brown & Rafael Lopez
- Eleanor Foraker – The Spacesuit: How a Seamstress Helped Put Man on the Moon by Alison Donald
- Ruth Bader Ginsberg – I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy
- Amalia Hernandez – Danza! by Duncan Tonatiuh
- Edith Houghton – The Kid from Diamond Street by Audrey Vernick
- Edna Lewis – Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story About Edna Lewis by Robbin Gourley
- Sarla Thakral – Sarla in the Sky by Anjali Joshi
- Gabriela Mistral – My Name is Gabriela by Monica Brown
- Ethel Payne – The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne by Lesa Cline-Ransome
- Anna May Wong – Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo