Montessori and sexualization

I’m having a really jam packed week and want to get some ideas on virtual paper.  Please help refine these thoughts with me.

Recently the Christian Science Monitor has been discussing various points of view about the sexualization of children.  This article by Stephanie Hanes opens with a story of a three year old entering the “princess” phase.

A few years ago, Mary Finucane started noticing changes in the way her 3-year-old daughter played. The toddler had stopped running and jumping, and insisted on wearing only dresses. She sat on the front step quietly – waiting, she said, for her prince. She seemed less imaginative, less spunky, less interested in the world.

Ms. Finucane believes the shift began when Caoimhe (pronounced Keeva) discovered the Disney Princesses, that omnipresent, pastel packaged franchise of slender-waisted fairy-tale heroines. When Finucane mentioned her suspicions to other parents, they mostly shrugged.

“Everyone seemed to think it was inevitable,” Finucane says. “You know, it was Disney Princesses from [ages] 2 to 5, then Hannah Montana, then ‘High School Musical.’ I thought it was so strange that these were the new trajectories of female childhood.”

Granted we have boys, but I don’t understand the whole culture driven by TV characters and the general expectation that children will follow the archetypes into their real world.  One of the things that attracted my husband and myself to the Montessori philosophy was that it did not allow any characters on clothing or lunch boxes in the school and strongly encouraged the limiting of screen time to all students.  We pushed hard for no Baby Elmo, Disney characters (and we lived in central Florida at the time), or movie character items to be entered into our family.  This was not too difficult.  Once the grands knew, they helped with everyone else in the family.  But I digress.  The school.

The Montessori classroom is not overstimulating.  It does not contain items that are cartoon based.  No smiling apple waving with gloved hand or plastic worm pointer.  No cartoons to help with math.  No pre-packaged princess costumes for imaginative dress-up.  It provides what children really desire.  It provides children with the ability to be really useful.  To put on their own coats, to prepare snack, to wash their own dishes, to sew buttons, to wash windows, mirrors, and rugs, to arrange flowers, to live a full life.  In this life there is space for imagination but there is not room for helpless privilege no matter how nice. The classroom has natural items, real glass, simple color schemes, and beautiful masterpieces.  There isn’t room for the cheep.  Real trumps cheep any day.

Then the children themselves are different. The normalized classroom doesn’t find ways to talk about “boys” and “girls.”  The normalized classroom talks about your friends.  We are all friends and there is not “boyfriend” “girlfriend” even among three-year-olds because we are all friends.  Just friends.  We are all here to all help each other.  We care about everyone.  Children are encouraged to work with others who are interested in the same things – older with younger, outgoing with shy, boy with girl – all advancing.

I’ve had several children transition into the elementary classroom from non-Montessori environments.  Freedom of choice, self-control, attention to detail are often what administration worries about with new students to the classroom.  The two things that tax the guide are: the new child’s rushing through work because they have not given enough time to make their work beautiful and the immediate need to find out who is liking whom or the cute discussions about boys!  It takes some time to release the children from these ideas.  What can emerge is a playful child.  I don’t know a better way to describe it.  The child isn’t on the hunt to find their place in the pecking order and they can be a child.

Now granted in upper elementary, the boys preen.  But it like watching Seven Brides for Seven Brothers barn raising.  It is about the female in the greater sense.  But it really is about one upping the other guys.  The girl is the excuse. AV’s best friend during fifth and sixth grade was a girl.  Taylor and AV became friends because they worked well together.  AV liked to do research and Taylor liked to write it down.  They were both no nonsense and thoughtful.  It didn’t matter about their sexes.

This year the BR is in the sixth grade at a local parochial school.  He said the most difficult thing for him is the snippy girls trying to one-up each other to get attention of boys. Having a conversation is hard enough; he can’t imagine trying to work with a group of them.

One of my favorite bloggers has decided allow her daughter to miss the Disney dynasty marketing extravaganza. Another was a Casa teacher who just completed her elementary training in Bergamo, Italy. She is preparing to welcome a child in the world.  I encourage you to really think about the messages that I Carley or Shake It Up.  Do you want your child to be one of those characters?  You can’t pick which one.

Really folks we as a culture can do better.  We owe it to the children to do better.

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6 Comments

Filed under Montessori

6 responses to “Montessori and sexualization

  1. What a timely post for me to read considering that this is something that has been on my mind recently.
    Having worked with elementary aged children transitioning from Montessori primary schools and Non-Montessori primary schools, I too see the difference you are talking about.
    I like the way you have said, “It takes some time to release the children from these ideas” …. but for that there are other variables, I reckon. A large enough class size with the majority of the children coming from a normalized Montessori primary environment stands out.
    On a different note I love your blog! Thanks for writing.

  2. EV

    Thanks for commenting and working this thought process forward. I agree this is a simplistic view.

  3. Well put, EV! I love how you shared real-life examples so parents can understand a child’s potential if he/she is not exposed to all this marketing. Have you read “Buy Buy Baby”? It’s a fascinating and disturbing look at the power of cartoon character marketing.

  4. Really enjoyed your post EV. I was shocked to realise that your link went to MY BLOG!!! Thank you for that. I really find your post interesting because as my daughter is almost four I am noticing things that I seem to have very little control of. She does talk about princesses(not Disney thank goodness)and looking beautiful, loves to wear dresses and dance, be a ballerina and loves the color pink. None of these things have I encourraged(well maybe the dancing)or introduced to her myself. Yet somehow through outside influences they have filtered in. And she is hooked. It does make me wonder how much of these preferences are built in. I do find it funny though when I ask her what a princess is. She doesn’t really have an answer. I have to say that makes me feel better.
    Thanks also for the link to the pdf. Will print it off for a better look!

    • EV

      I do think some things just are. Girls just are, well, girls. Archetypes are archetypes for a reason. I do think it is hardwired on some level. I think that the roles do help us sort out issues of good and evil and how to overcome evil with good. That doesn’t mean we fall into the stereotypical roles during the resolving the situation. Your daughter can be a princess who dances on the nose of the fearsome dragon.

      I do pop by quite regularly to your blog world and enjoy it immensely.

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