According to numerous studies, children develop a socio-cognitive understanding of gender groups in the first 3 years of life and categorise themselves into one of those groups. (1) In this formative period, what should parents and educators do to support the child’s sense of equality? What role does gender equality play in the Montessori approach to education?
Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was a person who challenged gender boundaries in medicine, politics, and of course, education. She was one of the first specialised female doctors in Italy, lectured internationally for women’s rights, and advocated for social reform through the Montessori approach to education.
The Montessori method is an education for life, preparing the whole individual to coexist with others in a peaceful world. For this reason Dr. Montessori knew that it was important for girls and boys to be educated together as equals. It was just as important that the boys learn the “practical life” skills of food preparation and cleaning the floors as it was that the girls study mathematics and science. (4)
For all of the work Dr. Montessori did for education, women, children, disabled people, and science, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times!
gender-neutral elements of Montessori
- Montessori materials are available to all children at any time for them to follow their own interests and learn.
- The clothing children wear is chosen based on function, comfort, and protection rather than appearance or gender recognition.
- Interactions between teacher and student are the same regardless of the child’s gender. It is the work of the Montessori teacher to make their own personal transformation into a being of love and knowledge so that they can create a secure place for children to learn, absorb, experience, and explore.
- The responsibilities given to each child to be safe and courteous to others apply to all children, regardless of their gender.
- Colours of the furniture, materials, clothing, and environment are not directed or intended for any specific gender.
- Books found in a Montessori classroom would not reinforce any gender norms. If possible, they will actually challenge them.
- We respect and accept each child, including their gender identity.
As soon as the gender of a child has been assigned, their social gender is often immediately assigned too: what colour their clothes will be, what kind of toys they will have at home, and what their future hobbies, careers, and relationships may look like. (2) How is the child’s life then based in equality if so many parts of it have already been decided, sometimes before they were even born?
“Until the adults consciously face their errors and correct them, they will find themselves in a forest of insoluble problems. And children becoming in their turn adult, will be victims of the same error, which they will transmit from generation to generation.”
— DR. MARIA MONTESSORI, THE CHILD IN THE FAMILY
*Social gender is the way one expresses their gender identity. It also includes the way a society perceives gender. Finally social gender includes the way society encourages conformity to gender norms through gender roles and expectations.
There is NO need for gendered baby clothing.
The only general requirements for children’s clothing are that it
- is suitable for the climate
- facilitates freedom of movement
- encourages collaboration + independence
Dressing babies in feminine or masculine clothing based on their gender assignment enforces conformity to current gender norms and subjects the child to stereotyping. In a perfect world this would not happen. Clothing and accessories for children are not supposed to be a way of preventing them from being misgendered. Babies and toddlers have no masculine or feminine traits; they are all equal.
*note Gendered clothing for babies and toddlers, at least in the United States, was not popularised until the 1950’s when pink for girls and blue for boys became a gendered colour convention. Increasingly since the 1980’s babies and toddlers have been wearing outfits similar to adult clothing.
There is NO need for gendered baby toys.
Studies show that babies and toddlers do not distinguish between stereotypically feminine or masculine objects according to their own gender, but rather are interested in the toys which are familiar to them. (3)
Over the years I have had many male and female toddler students who are interested in woodworking, dressing up, cooking, caring for younger babies, running and jumping. All the assertions by parents you’ve ever heard such as, “she won’t like that because she’s a girl” or “he needs to do this because he’s a boy” or “boys/girls are so…” are unfounded and based on gender biases, stereotypes, and myths. Babies and toddlers have no masculine or feminine traits; they are all equal.
other blogposts about Montessori materials and activities for 0-3
- Practical life in the Montessori Toddler Community
- Materials for Montessori-at-Home
- How to set up a Montessori play area at home (from birth to 3 years)
- 15 Montessori gifts for 0-3
- The Way Children Play: how to use a Montessori shelf at home
- What Your Child Is Capable Of : from birth to 18m
Thank you for reading! I hope that you found this blogpost interesting and useful.
- “Children and gender identity: Supporting your child”: a medical article by Mayo Clinic
- “Understanding Gender”: a medical article by gender spectrum
- “Early androgens, activity levels and toy choices of children in the second year of life”: a psychology article by Texas A&M University
- “Dr. Maria Montessori, Feminist”: a blogpost from The New Inquiry