My older two children were in Montessori schooling until we left Australia in 2018. When we arrived in the UK Caspar went into Year 5 and Otis went into Year 2, into a mainstream (but private) school. Until this time they had only known Montessori schooling. I had only been a parent at Montessori schools.
The change from Montessori schooling to mainstream schooling made me realise that the Montessori approach is gender-neutral and mainstream schooling often isn't. It was a huge shock when I found out that even in Year 2 the boys and girls do different sports and have gender-specific uniforms including sports kits and specifications for hair and jewllery.
- All materials are gender-neutral - there are no boys toys and girls toys.
- Colour is not used in a gender-specific way - colour, is very specific in Montessori, the pink tower is pink for a reason and it has nothing to do with girls, the brown stairs must be brown, the red rods are red, even continents have their own colours. Materials are often colour coded to keep them in a set. Every colour serves a purpose, it is not gender aligned. Teachers will often avoid predominately feminine or masculine colours when choosing materials such as aprons and cleaning cloths, they will often choose colours that are seen as gender-neutral. You will not find a frilly pink apron in a Montessori classroom but perhaps a lovely neutral patterned apron.
- There are no gender-specific uniforms - this is our experience only, our Montessori schools did not enforce uniforms and the uniforms that were available were not gender-specific. Hair and jellwery specifications were not gender-specific. Everyone needed to wear clean, and tidy clothing, long hair was required to be tied back (so it didn't get in the way of work).
- Books and materials do not promote gender stereotypes - you will not find books or materials that support gender stereotypes in Montessori classrooms or homes. Montessori promotes positive non-stereotyping information, and avoid stereotypes in the selection of books and other visual materials.
- There are no gender-specific activities - all children do cooking, baking, flower arranging, sewing, gardening, washing. No activity is gender-specific.
- There is no gender-specific sport - in Montessori children are not segregated by gender for sport, children participate in sporting and physical education activities together, there is no segregation during sports day, fun runs.
- Children are not segregated by gender in any way.
- Parents are not segregated by gender - no mommy and me class. It is not assumed that mothers are stay-at-home parents, or that mothers specifically are to volunteer at school events. Parents are parents.
- Each child's timeline is respected - milestones or developmental expectations do not differ by gender.
- All furniture is gender-neutral - Montessori furniture for homes and schools are gender-neutral, often a natural or stained timber and not adorned to make them more masculine or feminine. (Although I've seen one of Maria Montessori's classroom that was predominately pink, she found it a colour that children were attracted to!).
- If clothing is provided it is gender-neutral - this mainly applies to training pants where they are provided they are usually white for practical reasons and are not coloured for gender.
- Some communities/schools have gender-neutral policies - I've found there are Montessori schools with gender-neutral policies, not the schools we've attended though. Others have diversity and equality policies which include gender neutrality.
Are toilets at Montessori schools gender-neutral? I wish gender-neutral toilets were the norm. Many Montessori schools are making the shift and applying for funds so they can to update toilet facilities to be gender-neutral. I love in Montessori that freedom of movement is respected and in many schools and classrooms students are not required to ask to use the toilet. This is how it should be. Typically in 0-3 and 3-6yr classrooms I've found the toilets to be gender-neutral as they are with many mainstream preschools.
If for Montessori the goal of education is to allow the child’s optimal development (intellectual, physical, emotional and social) to unfold and for the child to to reach their full potential, then stereotypes, seggregation or expectations based on gender norms can only be prohibitive, for the purpose of inclusivity gender specificity can be detrimental to intersex, non-binary or transgender students (and parents).
In Montessori it's more than the environment that is gender-neutral, it's the approach that is gender-neutral.
- The Montessori Approach to Gender Neutral Education at Persephone Magazine.
- The Beginning Of 'Two Cultures": By Preschool, Boys And Girls Are Already Segregated at Think Progress.
- The Male Montessorian Blog.
- Global Gender Gap Index at the World Economic Forum - you can check your county, New Zealand is 9th, US is 45th and Australia 46th.
- Sweden's gender-neutral preschools product kids who are more likely to succeed at Quartz. "In 1998, an amendment to Sweden’s education act required that public schools at all levels begin promoting gender-neutral policies and teaching styles."
- In Sweden's Preschools, Boys Learn to Dance and Girls Learn to Yell at The New York Times. - "Teachers were required to review videotapes of themselves with the children, to identify subtle differences in the way they interacted with boys and girls. Many found that they used more words, and more complex sentences, with girls."
- The Welsh get it. From September 1st 2019, school uniforms, including sports and PE kits in Wales are set to become gender-neutral.
How about in your home or school? Do you parent or teach in a gender-neutral way? I admit that I find it challenging.