It's not just about inclusivity — here are six other benefits to boys and girls playing.
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Have you ever walked past a playground and seen groups of girls playing separately from groups of boys?

Sure, really young kids may not be very discerning in their choice of play partners, but once kids become aware of their gender, they often silo off into their respective gendered groups. Girls may start gathering in a group that plays with dolls or puzzles, while boys may prefer to get dirty and play fight.

Photo via Pixabay.


And while there's nothing wrong with some separation, if it becomes the norm, over time it could end up working against kids as they come into their teen years. If they aren't encouraged to play with kids of the opposite sex, they might eventually feel like they aren't meant to, or that they aren't welcome in those groups.

Even though the 'boys only' clubhouse from "The Little Rascals" might sound like an extreme example, it's not a far cry from what women still experience in certain professions that remain more male-dominated — these women end up feeling like they aren't welcome.

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem/Unsplash

Thankfully, however, more and more youth programs are encouraging boys and girls to play together in order to help break down the barrier before it develops.

And this style of play isn't just helping kids feel included. There are many other benefits to inclusivity. Here are 6 of them:

1. It can help kids work together more effectively later in life.

Since boys and girls' brains and bodies are somewhat different, how they interact with the world also tends to diverge. But, if they're allowed to play together from an early age, they'll learn to adapt to each other's styles of interacting, which should help them communicate better as adults.

Photo by Mi Pham/Unsplash.

Dr. Gail Saltz, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of medicine and the author of Amazing You, elaborates:

"Children learn from being exposed to new ideas. They learn coping skills from being exposed to and having to manage compromising with others who play differently, they learn tools regarding collaboration, disagreement, compromise, resolving conflict, delayed gratification and frustration tolerance."

2. When boys play with girls, they may be more well-behaved

Both a 2001 study of preschoolers and a 2011 study of adolescents found that regular interaction between the sexes both during and after school leads to an overall decrease in aggression in boys. So if you have a boy who's prone to outbursts, it might be helpful to set up some playdates with girls in his class.

3. Making all toys fair game helps build confidence in both genders.

Photo by Unsplash/Sandy Millar.

If there's no separation between toys and activities, both boys and girls will feel more confident to explore the things they're drawn to, regardless of the gender it might've originally been associated with.

"By allowing boys and girls to play together with a variety of toys, including trucks, cars, play dough, musical instruments, dolls, puppets, and legos, you’re teaching that both genders are equal and okay," explains Katie Ziskind, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), in an email. "Puppets and music are great gender neutral toys for expressive and creative play. "

4. Inclusivity can help promote creative thinking.

Photo via Pixabay.

Piggy-backing on that idea from the first point above, when boys and girls get comfortable interacting with each other, they learn to be more accepting and sensitive to behaviors that are a bit different from their own. They also pick up new ways of relating, thinking and feeling, which can ultimately help them develop into more well-rounded people.

"Some of our most innovative thinking comes from exploring the area of overlap in thinking between two disparate minds," notes Dr. Saltz.

5. Parents can personally benefit too.

Kids certainly learn behaviors from their parents, but it goes both ways. If kids start being more accepting and positive towards the opposite sex, it may encourage their parents to be more mindful about their behavior as well.

This is also an important lesson for parents who want to show their kids why it's important to be accepting of everyone. When you show your kids what that looks like, they'll be more inclined to follow suit.

6. It helps emphasize the importance of the individual.

Photo via Pixabay.

When kids are free to play any way they want with whomever they want, it helps them feel less inhibited by stereotypes that still exist in the world around them. It also encourages them to express who they are or want to be, and embrace all their eccentricities rather than shy away from them.

Encouraging kids to try different things, even if they're the only girl or boy doing it, will ultimately help them find their way in life, and realize that there's nothing wrong with taking the road less traveled. In fact, they'll probably better off for it.

All this is not to say that boys and girls should never play separately. However, since that's more often the default, it's important to realize the benefits of a neutral play zone, too.

"Playing together as children teaches females that they can be strong, physically active, and have a career one day while being a leader in the workplace," writes Ziskind. "Men are taught that it’s okay to cry, that being emotional is a sign of deeper strength and wisdom, and to nurture themselves."

There are so many wonderful things about us that can help us be happier and more comfortable in our own skin. Knowing that, it only makes sense to inspire inclusivity in kids from the moment they start to play with others.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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