Follow the Child: Navigating Gender Expression through Montessori Philosophy
“Following the child” is the epitome of Montessori education. As teachers, we observe students to understand and address their learning needs as individuals. Bear with me as I put on my parent hat. My home philosophy is akin to my classroom one—follow my children. It doesn’t mean giving them everything they want when they want it, but it does mean giving them freedom to explore who they are.
Following my children has taken on a whole new meaning when it comes to clothing choices.
Everyone knows that my son is the one wearing a dress. From an early age, he wanted to wear skirts. I have always been an advocate for breaking through gender stereotypes, so of course I was going to encourage him to wear one. At first, I started off borrowing one from a friend to be sure he truly enjoyed it. He rarely took it off, which indicated that I should begin purchasing more skirts and dresses. I did, and I will continue to do so unless he tells me otherwise. Most of his clothes are stereotypically boy hand-me-downs, which he wears with no complaints as well; but it does make outings for skirts, dresses, and leggings an extra special occasion. The look on his little face the first time he wears a new dress is priceless.
This has not been the easy path. A child who openly and proudly chooses to be different brings up feelings for many people in public. We don't often have to justify our choice of helping him wear what is comfortable, but it does happen occasionally. One place I have not had to do this is Wellan Montessori School. The Wellan community lovingly embraces my son, often telling him how beautiful he looks and making a point to notice new articles of clothing. In fact, the other night, my son whispered to me as he was falling asleep, “Mom, I wear dresses because I’m comfortable in them. Isn’t that great?” To say that shivers went down my spine would be an understatement. I had to try not to cry tears of happiness that he feels so loved and welcomed just as he is.
Wearing two hats is interesting sometimes, especially when it comes to this subject. I often get questions from students about why my son is wearing a dress, because aren’t dresses for girls? Well, here comes a great teaching moment! I have a plethora of great books for children explaining that anyone can wear/do/be anything they want. Girls can be engineers! Boys can wear sparkly dresses! Pink is for everyone! The list goes on; my bookshelf at home is overflowing.
Colleagues often ask to borrow books from me, which I happily supply. The Wellan Library is also a great resource, and each day it feels as though more books are added to the shelves that tackle these tough issues.
Here is a list of some of our favorite books at home:
I am 100% positive that following my son has played a huge role in shaping him into the confident, caring, loving, skirt-twirling child he is today. He is happy being himself—and that's exactly what this Montessori mom and teacher wants.