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Drag queens take story time reading sessions in nurseries

Nursery staff upset by criticism of popular reading scheme

17 November, 2017 — By The Xtra Diary

Drag queens are reading books to children in a bid to lay down their iPads  

LESSONS can sometimes be a drag, and for two schools in Marylebone and Soho quite literally.

The Soho Nursery in Brewer Street and the Holcroft Early Years Centre in Carburton Street, Fitzrovia, are part of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) network, and their children are having special story-time sessions run by a pioneering project featuring drag queens.

LEYF chief executive June O’Sullivan told Diary how they have teamed up with Drag Queen Story Time (DQST), a nationwide project that does what it says on the tin. With the foundation always searching for ways to engage children, particularly with literature, they felt it was an interesting idea and set up a project to bring drag artists into their nurseries to read to children.

The project has twin aims, said June. “Fewer children are reading books. It is getting harder to compete with iPads,” she said. “We wondered if this would be a good way to make children sense the enjoyment of reading, and offer some fun and theatricality.”

On top of this, it could help youngsters learn more about tolerance and understanding, she said. “We thought it was worth a go and that people should not be frightened of the unknown. Children love going to the theatre to see shows and we felt this was similar. What’s not to like?”

The LEYF is a leading charity that provides free and subsidised nursery places for youngsters in 37 places across London and has schools in Westminster and Camden. Set up in 1903, they provide early years education for more than 4,500 children. Activities including story time, a Halloween drag disco, face-painting and high tea have all been confirmed and met with the full support of nursery teachers. But the news of the project made national headlines this week as those with less enlightened attitudes got hold of it.

The Daily Mail and The Sun both took umbrage and went into reactionary mode, aware it would push the outrage buttons of their readership. Instead of considering how it may help young people learn about tolerance, and of course help engage them with books, the Mail said a psychologist claimed they “feared they could sow the seeds of confusion in young children about their own sexual identity, with long-term consequences”.

June told the Diary it was water off a duck’s back. She said: “I was phlegmatic about it. We knew it was going to be in the Mail. Some staff did get upset, and said it was so unfair and it misrepresented the whole project by saying it was about learning about gender fluidity, which it just isn’t.

 “But frankly it is their problem not ours. I didn’t waste my time worrying about it. All of our nurseries are geared to giving children the best and equal start in life no  matter what their background is. DQST is all about opening our doors so that every single member of our community is included and we fully embrace this.

“By providing spaces in which children are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions, it allows them to imagine the world in which people can present as they wish.”

Stewart Lane, manager at SoHo Nursery, who has co- ordinated the events added: “With recent reports showing that the number of hate crimes in England and Wales has increased by 29 per cent, sadly we live in a world where people face homophobia, racism and general discrimination on a daily basis. Yet these are all learnt behaviours. We aren’t born with any form of hatred, you get taught it over time. If events like DQST can help curtail this and teach children about tolerance and kindness then that has to be a good thing.”

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