It’s an issue that challenges educators and school children across the province: what to do with children and teenagers who are confused about their sexual identity, and identify as transgender.

A group of parents of transgender children has teamed up with a Montreal-based design firm to create toys and other educational material for the classroom.

Stuart McMillan heads a team of young creators who were handed the tough challenge two years ago; to create a toy that teachers could use to educate children.

The result is a Russian doll named Sam.

Sam is portrayed through the various phases of her life: from curiosity about gender roles – “little girl who wants to dress up as a construction worker” – to the first signs of gender questioning, and the difficult teenage years.

The team was provided at no cost by the communications firm LG2. They spent two years working on the project and designing the dolls, as well as producing a video so the issues can be better understood in a classroom setting.

“Research is very clear, that gender identity starts developing at around two to three years old,” explained Annie Pullen Sansfacon, from Universite de Montreal’s school of social work. “It will start consolidating at around eight, and may be expressed to others during their lifetime.”

Professor Sansfacon said tools like the Sam doll are an effective way to educate children in these age groups. But the stakes are high, she explained, because statistics show that 41 per cent of transgender individuals will attempt suicide at some point in their lives – unless they get early support.

“The schools get into a situation when there’s a transgender child, and then how do we deal with that? How do we do it? How do we talk to other children if the child wants to say it?” Sansfacon said.

The toy – an educational tool – is needed to start the discussion. But don’t expect to find them at a local toy store.

“We really don’t have a target market: we have a mission,” McMillan said. “The more schools and the more kids we can talk to with this, the better the world will be.”