SANTA CRUZ -- A Seabright mom who is forming a preschool just for little girls called The Pink Academy has drawn criticism for her idea.
Donna Wood, the school's creator, said online scrutiny mushroomed after KJ Dell'Antonia, a writer for Slate.com blog XX Factor, posted a story last week titled "The Pink Academy: Would You Send Your Child to an All-Girl Preschool?"
Wood, a mother and part-time marriage and family therapist who has studied child development, said she was blindsided. She said Dell'Antonia never contacted her about the school. Dell'Antonia, a New Hampshire mother, could not be reached for comment.
Wood home-schools her 5-year-old daughter, Aspen, and said Aspen is often surrounded by her older brothers, one of whom has cerebral palsy, and by their friends.
When Wood began considering a home-based preschool for children ages 3 to 6, Aspen asked for an all-girls school.
Wood did some research on same-gender education, noting the pros and cons and the lack of any definitive conclusions, especially at the preschool level, and decided to go that route. Aspen helped choose the name, she said.
But it has become something of a target, particularly after Dell'Antonia's article, which described the "all-pink website" and the "nod to gender-neutral subject matter" apparently being offered "in a very pink multisensory way."
Wood said little of the criticism has been thoughtful, open-minded or inclined to give the fledgling school the benefit of the doubt.
She said The Pink Academy can be pro-girl without being anti-boy.
"The program is in no way intended to separate girls from boys," she said. "It is intended to provide girls a place to go a few hours a week to socialize with other girls, develop an interest in sports, math and science, and share adventures such as backyard camping, beach outings and field trips to museums.
"It's about empowering girls, and they like pink right now."
Wood said it's not for everyone, but it works for her family, and she believes it's a valid choice for others.
She said the house has pale lavender walls, pink accessories, a flowery couch and a play kitchen, but promises no Barbies or manicure stations. The preschool is planned for the Woods' home, a restored Victorian on Seabright Avenue. It has a large, bright room that is definitely what many would consider feminine, but also contains books, puzzles and lots of craft materials, plus a microscope and a backyard with a climbing structure, tetherball court, skateboard ramp and more.
Wood will also teach monthly lessons featuring accomplished women, she said.
"We will have a balance," she said. ''My daughter is very well-rounded."
When Aspen was younger, she had a slate blue room and was happy to play with her brothers' toys. But as she got a bit older and started picking out her own clothes, more and more pink appeared, Wood said.
"I don't know where that comes from, but I don't think it's wrong," she said.
Last month, Berkeley author Peggy Orenstein gave a talk at Capitola Book Cafe about her book, ''Cinderella Ate My Daughter."
Orenstein argues there has been a sea change in girly-girl culture since 2000, following creation of the provocatively dressed Bratz dolls and Disney's decision to market its animated princesses as entities apart from the films they starred in.
Orenstein's believes that though girly-girl culture for very young girls is about selling innocence, it can lead gradually to sexualizing girls as they get older. Either way, it's promoting and supporting a culture of narcissism in children, she says.
Wood said Aspen has a couple of Barbies, given as gifts, and has gone to Disneyland.
Wood said she worries more about some of the images of girls and parents on TV, and limits that exposure.
Jean Gallagher-Heil, who chairs the early childhood education department at Cabrillo College, said she has never heard of a single-gender preschool or research on that topic for such young children.
"Developmentally, there are some considerations," she said. ''Children get identified as their gender very early, but the idea about gender constancy, that I'm a girl and will grow up to be a woman, is not clear until age 6 or 7.
"So keeping either separated during those years doesn't give them the same opportunity to understand who they really are."
Gallagher-Heil said removing preschoolers from the opposite sex also removes the chance to step in when children start differentiating and telling one another they can't do or wear a certain thing because of their gender.
"We already do so much force-feeding, there are so many ways our culture forces them into their gender roles," she said. "I really wish for all children the opportunity to explore all parts of themselves."
Wood said she plans to offer the school from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, launching around April 1 with six to eight youngsters.
"We'll move forward," she said. "I think there is a middle ground out there. I'm trying to make it really clear, but some people will find fault because it's single-gender and it has pink' in the name. I wish these women knew me."
Contact Wood and The Pink Academy at 831-600-8051.