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.