I know you are thinking I am going to go on about STEAM, ballet, violin, and gymnastics. ERRONEOUS!
“If children learn to normalize dominance and non-consent within the context of education, then non-consent becomes a normalized part of the ‘tool kit’ of those who have and wield power… ”—Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
The best education for girls is to not have a preconceived notion established by any institution (i.e. school) of what she should do, be good at, or what her preferences should be. Girls will be girls for sure. They’ll want to wear make up when they are three years old, even if mom never wears makeup. They’ll be into princesses even if they’ve never watched Disney.
As parents, we must see to it that our daughters develop uniquely. That their interest and strengths are observed and help them along.
I’m not saying there are no expectations. Every family has their values, their ideas about expecting certain social behavior, manners, having empathy, etc. But that is closer to developing as a unique individual since family and family life is closer to kids’s life’s than school. What we as parents model is what they will do. If they see us read, they’ll want to read, if they see us ride our bike, they’ll want to learn to ride a bike.
There are people that in wanting their girls to not conform to preconceived girl ideas, err on the side of pushing a love for activitites and sports that are traditionally for boys, for example, when in fact they are doing the same thing as parents who get their girls into ballet and gymnastics. There is so much rigor, discipline and expectations involved in these activities. So when we get our daughters into rigorous activities when they are little, we are really sending the message that they need to conform to a set of expectations that they may not consent to. We tend to say “I want my daughter to learn the piano” when we should maybe say “I’d love my daughter to take up piano, but, I don’t know if she will…” because, well, she may not love piano, or soccer, or ballet. I used to say that if I had a daughter I would want her to take gymnastics, until I had a daughter!
When they are about 7 years old, they start becoming more confident about physical skills. Suddenly, they start pushing the boundaries of fear of certain activities. It is not uncommon to see them climbing trees over and over, doing the monkey bars at the playground, climbing up poles, jumping off places, diving from the tall diving board, doing flips on the trampoline…They will do just fine fearlessly pushing these boundaries, specially if they have been developing in a safe learning environment, where parents have allowed them to express themselves through pretend play, dress up, etc.
Even being part of this kind of play without establishing guidelines or offering criticism, just letting them play will allow girls to develop their brain, they start defining and exploring who they are, and retain more of the learning than if you were involved with teaching them the multiplication tables.
Being in the Flow
Girls are great at pretend play. During this kind of play they hatch out all kinds of roles, scenarios, learned behavior, even correcting behavior; have you ever heard a 3 year old reprimand a doll or stuffed animal for a behavior that is not ok in their family? They might do this themselves but they know that mom tells them, “no, no ,no” and so they reinforce their learning by having teddy act this behavior and say “no, no, no”.
They act out what they experience around in their environment. They also gravitate toward certain activities that resonate more to them. For example, they might build houses for the fairies, or for the dolls, or for the pets. From that they may decide to make an obstacle course for the doll and then a life scale obstacle course for themselves. Or they may start a pretend clothing store, which invariably needs doll cloths to be confectioned.
I have heard my daughter and another little girl playing and putting an IV for fluids on teddy for teddy’s hyperthyroidism, and my daughter going along with this, no idea of what it meant, but asked mom if she could have an IV bag for her stuffed bunny. I have seen her breast feeding her baby doll! Her friend had a newborn baby brother and they saw their mom breastfeeding.
A typical kindergartener spends six hours at school involved in activities with an emphasis on reading, sorting, identifying shapes, practicing letters, coloring, nap time, lunch time, recess, and numbers.
When a typical day for a 5 year old might be to get up, grab a snack and lounge on the sofa while working on some knitting or self guided project, while watching her favorite YouTube video, and eating a snack.
Then she may help with lunch. After lunch she might ask to go to the park and practice her newest skill, play tag and hide and seam for a couple of hours, and that may lead to building houses for the rabbits.
Everyday is different because being in the flow doesn’t necessarily have a schedule or set rules, it is child led.
Fast forward three years and on any given day you may find her playing with her dolls, making them clothes, building Barbie mansions out of scrap wood and building materials from a remodel.
Math is counting money and whatever change is found in the house and figuring out how much more she needs to buy another favorite toy, brainstorming ways to make money.
At 7 girls can start practicing maths, reading, and natural sciences but that may only take less than an hour per week!
Allowing our girls to be in the flow when it comes to playing gives them an outlet to zone in to their interests and define how and what they learn. Likewise, when they are spending time with us, it allows us to learn this state of being in the flow with them and getting to know them at a deeper level.
Dads are crucial in the present and future of our girls
To be completely politically incorrect, let me just estate here what has already been proven by women of our parents’ generation that were told that they should have a college education so they could have great careers, and of course they had to get married young enough to still be able to have children (plural) and also maintain their great career and be “good” housewives and mothers, ALL at the same time. And of course everyone knows that is impossible.
Today dads have made parenting a bigger part of their lives. They spend a lot more time with their kids than our dads used to. They help more around the house and cook way more meals than their contemporaries. Even when it comes to divorce, custody seems to be more fair in terms of how much time is spent with dad and what involvement men keep in their kids’ lives after divorce.
Moms really benefit from today’s dad compared to the previous generation of super moms. Moms are able to have a job and distribute parenting and family obligations more evenly with dads.
Girls benefit in that the message is not focused on being super-women and supermoms, and they of course benefit from spending plenty of time with dad.
Sometimes the world is intimidating for girls in ways that are different for boys. The other day I watched my daughter as she approached a basketball court where two boys were running and jumping up to the basket doing loops. Our daughter sat on the side of the court for a while watching the two boys who were a little older than her. You could tell she wanted the ball too but the boys didn’t offer and it was too intimidating for her. Dad walked up to her and grabbed a ball and helped her throw the ball. She made it. He stayed with her and made sure she could have as many turns as the other boys. She made every single basket. It was a great experience for her, and one that would not have happened had dad not happened to be there to help her insert herself in the game.
They all ended up playing for quite a while. And having a great time. There were no judgements, no competition, it was just fun.
You don’t have to go the extra mile as a dad to have your daughter’s back. You don’t have to be over protective of her. It all comes down to being there and being in the flow of being a dad. Observing enough to know where she needs help, allowing a certain amount of frustration, and when you jump in, do it with a fun attitude.
I believe that if our daughter had started going to school in kindergarten, by now she would have a very good idea of what she is expected to be and how she’s expected to act from the socio-school ecosystem perspective. I believe that if dad had not had her back on the basketball course, she and the boys would not have ended up having a great time playing basketball.
Why I don’t like the Girl Scouts Club
Given that in this site we encourage a connection with nature, teaching survival skills, cultivating responsibility, engaging in entrepreneurial experiences, etc. you would think that we would advocate for the Girls Scouts. We don’t. It’s not something that I would write about at length simply because we have not gotten involved with it and we don’t know enough. But, what we do know is that almost every single parent we talk to about their experience with the Girls Scouts rings of disappointment and just too much trouble for what the girls get out of it.
There is an article written by a mom that volunteered to lead a troop and ended up disillusioned by all the forms and bureaucracy involved. There are accounts of how the Girl Scouts are supporting the Boy Scouts. Etc. I hardly ever hear about the unique and meaningful experiences anyone had with the Girl Scouts.
In conclusion. There is no cookie cutter education for girls. In our generation when you asked a girl what she wanted to be when she grew up she might say: A Vet!
Nowadays, when you ask a free thinking girl the same question she might say: chef, violinist, and writer! No one wants to get boxed into one thing for life and our girls have come a long way developing that special instinct.
Laying out the priorities of an education for girls is like designing the life you want to lead as an adult, but in the case of our girls it starts now.
Lamb ME, ed. The role of the father in child development. New York: John Wiley and Sons; 2010.
Leidy MS, Schfield TJ, Parke RD. Fathers’ contributions to children’s social development. In: Cabrera NJ, Tamis-Lemonda CS, eds. Handbook of Father Involvement, 2nd ed., New York: Routledge; 2013.