Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Sex Ed.

Got your attention, huh?

So, sex ed. isn't something that is covered in any of the Montessori curricula that I've ever seen. But we're starting zoology soon, so that may change! And honestly, there is probably little need for most parents to even consider the question of sex education until their child is a fair bit older. Typically kids don't register things like that until they're 9 or 10. Then again, I speak as a child of the 70's and 80's - nowadays you can barely get away from overt sexuality unless you join a convent, and even then!!! Advertisements, tv shows, magazines, even cartoons, for heaven's sake, are suggestive. I didn't want to be caught unawares, and I was prepared, even before Ella was born, to have a handy, simple answer when the question "Where do babies come from?"

You see, I really don't want to lie to my child, and I don't want her to ever go through the terror that my grandmother did when, at the age of 13, she believed that all her internal organs were beginning to fall out. Her mother hadn't bothered to tell her about menstruation.

My mother feels similarly to me, which is why I've never felt really embarrassed about sexuality and rather considered it pretty normal and natural. It never became a "big deal," at least not in the sense that it does to most hormone-driven teenagers.

I really wanted the same for my children. I didn't want them to be weirded out by their own bodies, or by the bodies of others, and I didn't want them to perceive the world as a place where sexuality was more important than the person, even though it does make up a part of each one of us. Basically, I want my children to know the facts, to treat them as facts, and to preserve their innocence until they are really ready to understand more.

Most people, when they hear a statement such as "preserve their innocence" would assume that means "preserve their ignorance," but often the opposite is true. If someone is familiar with something, then the deep curiosity and the rush that comes from it being taboo can't exist. And let's face it, procreation is something that inspires a lot of curiosity in all kids, and if that curiosity isn't met with age-appropriate explanation then curiosity will become experimentation.

I cannot express how surprised I was when Ella, who at the time was all of 2 1/2 years old, asked me how babies were made. No, at 2 1/2 she didn't phrase it that way! We had been with family visiting, and as usual, the men gravitated towards the kitchen and the women to the living room. Among the women was a cousin who was soon to give birth, so of course much of the conversation revolved around pregnancy and babies. Ella must have been listening closely!

About two nights later, while laying in bed snuggling, Ella asked, "Mummy, dere is a baby in cousin's belly?"

"Yes," I said, "Cousin is going to have a baby, and right now the baby is inside her growing."

Her face twisted up, considering this, and then she followed up by asking, "Mummy, how de baby get in cousin's belly? How de baby get out of cousin's belly?"

As I said before, I was ready for this, though I had never thought that I would need to be so soon! I told Ella I'd be right back and I grabbed the book, Where Willy Went: The Big Story of a Little Sperm by Nicholas Allan.

This book is written on two levels. The first level constitutes a very gentle and simple retelling of the facts of life. All the sperm are anthropomorphized, having characters, attitudes, and aspirations. Of course the greatest aspiration is to win the "great swimming race" and winning the grand prize: the egg.

Visually, it is anatomically correct without getting too graphic (although I suppose that depends on what you consider to be "graphic"), and it does get the general idea across without getting into the "nitty gritty." Outside of "sperm" and "egg" you won't see any other technical terms (penis, testicles, vagina, uterus/womb, etc.), leaving exactly how much to explain entirely up to the parent.

The same is true when the "great race" occurs. There are anatomically correct "maps" given to the racers, but as you "watch" the race all you see is the interior corridors, not how they're all connected. As for that is it carefully "slipped over" as the adult protagonists (Mr. and Mrs. Brown) are only shown in bed, completely and totally covered with blankets. What exactly happens beneath those blankets is up to the imagination.

The same is true yet again when it comes to the birth. Mrs. Brown gracefully goes from greatly pregnant to holding a baby in her arms in the hospital without reference to any pushing, stretching, or pain. So again, it's up to the parent to decide how much they want to explain to their child.

The second level upon which this book is written is an humourous, tongue-in-cheek perspective for adults. This is both a wonderful addition and a bit of a distraction. It can be tough to explain to a young child what is so funny when, buried beneath blankets during the great race, Mrs. Brown cries out, "Come on, Willy!"

Ella's reaction, at 2 1/2, after I had finished reading (and explaining some parts) was priceless: "Mummy, dat is amazing!" When I went on to draw the parallel that if you replaced Mr. Brown with Daddy and Mrs. Brown with Mummy then the baby would be Ella, she wasn't as impressed. "Oh no!" she said, slowly and seriously. Then added, a bit more adamantly, "No, no, no, no, no!" So we just left it at that!

Now that I'm expecting, Ella's had a renewed interest in reproductive health. And because we've done some anatomy in school, she also wants to know the names of parts and how they work.

Part of teaching such things is also remembering to teach when talking about such things is appropriate. It is not appropriate to tell one of the deacons, "Boys have a penis and girls have a vulva!" Nor is it appropriate to explain to your grandfather the way the placenta and umbilical cord work to deliver food, blood, and oxygen to the baby in the midst of dinner. On the other hand, it is okay to say, while helping me change a baby's diaper, "Mummy you missed wiping up some poop behind his testicles." Take my advice - don't forget to add this aspect to sex education, because if you don't, you'll end up embarrassed!

One other book we used a lot for reproductive education (in this case human gestation - though I didn't use those terms with Ella) was Peter Tallack's In the Womb: Witness the Journey from Conception to Birth through Astonishing 3D Images. I found this at our local library and Ella was fascinated by all the pictures. I'd simplify the explanations so she could understand, more or less, what she was looking at. She loved it so much that she took it to her grandparents, showed them the pictures and explained to them what the photos were!

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At 8:31 p.m. , Anonymous Apple said...

Really thanks for your sharing...yes, i also have two little daughters, sex education really play a very important role on their life of journey...have to start it as early as possible!!

At 6:35 a.m. , Blogger RebelAngel said...

I imagine a book like In the Womb would be very useful while you are expecting. You could find the page that corresponds to "Now" so Ella could see what her little brother or sister looks like at the current stage.

At 10:47 a.m. , Blogger Teresa said...

What a great lesson, you deal with it in such a good way. I totally agree that far too many people confuse preserving innocence with preserving ignorance. Well done :)

At 9:03 a.m. , Blogger Familyoffoxes said...

I love this post! I found your blog from another Montessori blog, and I just had to comment on this! My parents taught me an invaluable lesson when I was a child by telling me that I had a "birth father" and a daddy, and that is this: Children grow into understanding. We dont have to feed them all the minute details! So when my daughters asked where babies come out, I told them. No biggie they were just 3! They'll get later what all that entails. My daughter thinks its the coolest thing ever that she has a bunch of eggs inside that will someday be used to make babies too! If we educate them when they are curious, then you're exactly right, their innocence will be preserved! Thank you for such a great post!

At 9:12 a.m. , Blogger celine said...

I am reading a lot your blog and learning a lot to!

I live in Spain and try to introduce Montessori here in Spain as nobody really knows about it.

I have created a blog to. if you want to look at it one day:
Althought it is in Spanish...

Did you do the history time line about the story of the earth? could you show a picture of it if you did it?

The book about how to make baby looks great! I will try to find it!

And your daughter looks amasing too!

Thanks again for all your work!

At 9:14 a.m. , Blogger celine said...

I love your blog!


This is mine just in case you want to check it out. But it is in Spanish...


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