A Royal Flush

21 Mar

A mom whose daughter is in another classroom struck up a conversation with me recently.  “I’m worried,” she confessed.  “When my daughter was four and I used to ask her what she wanted to be when she grows up, she would say ‘doctor’ or ‘pilot’ or ‘astronaut’.  Now that she’s almost six, I’ve been asking her again and all she ever says is ‘princess’.  It’s really disconcerting… What should I do?”

I’ve found that parents are often more receptive to stories than to in-your-face advice, so I shared the following story with her…

Four year-old Haley discovered the joy of writing with the moveable alphabet at the beginning of this year.  Sure, she had written the requisite phonetic words such as “cat”, “flag”, and “rug”, and had taught herself how to read.  This, however, was different.  This was writing for the joy of self-expression.

“I can write about anything I want?” she asked in disbelief.

“Anything,” I replied.

Her eyes widened.  “Even… princesses?”

I restrained a groan, silently cursing Disney and its putrid pink-and-purple princess campaign.  However, I wanted Haley to write and I needed to follow her interests, so I consented.  “Yes, even princesses.”

“Wow, my sister’s teacher never let her write about princesses,” she confessed.  (Her sister had graduated from our school a year earlier.)

I wondered if I had done the right thing by allowing her to write about the “characters” we so strongly discourage in school.  The way I saw it, if this child was being bombarded and indoctrinated by Disney princesses during the 80 waking hours she spent outside of school each week, then it was only natural that she would be obsessed with them.  And the more I forbade the topic, the more all-consuming it would become for her.

She started writing immediately, covering the rug with names of fictitious female characters, from Ariel to Snow White.  I hoped this would be a passing trend, but after a couple of weeks of princess-mania, I knew I had to do something.  I thought back to my own childhood.

My mother and grandmother are Spanish, and as a young child in Mexico I was fascinated by the lives of the Spanish royals.  My grandmother always had the most current edition of Hola! (the Spanish version of Hello! magazine) lying around, and I would spend hours looking at the glossy pictures of European princesses in their wedding gowns, evening wear, and sparkling tiaras.  As I got a little older, I realized that these real-life princesses had real lives that revolved around the support of charities and the championing of various social causes.

Mind you, I dislike monarchies as much as any informed person living in a democratic society: their arcane traditions, insulting wealth, and blatant social oppression are infuriating.  But I’m sure I dislike Disney even more (if you haven’t yet noticed) for its destruction of children’s imaginations and self-worth in its quest for profits and market dominance.

While I would’ve preferred that Haley be obsessed with a more inspirational set of female role models – perhaps Florence Nightingale, Helen Keller, or Marie Curie – I had to start where her interests lay.  I therefore made princess cards (Click to download the PDF!).  Haley drooled expectantly for an entire week as my assistant pasted, laminated and cut the cards under her very nose.  When the material was ready, she got the privilege of getting the first presentation.

I’m delighted to say that these humble cards had their intended effect… I happily escorted the Disney princesses out of our classroom and welcomed in a group of educated and well-bred women.

Haley’s new interest in real-life princesses has allowed us to learn about geography as we explore where each princess lives.  We’ve talked about altruism and philanthropy, etiquette and cultural traditions, blood relatives and in-laws, and even about mining (as in: Where do all those diamonds come from?).  The main characters of her stories – now several sentences long and written on paper with carefully crafted handwriting – are Diana, Grace, Victoria, and Letizia.  This summer, she’s traveling to Paris with her family.  Her one request is to go to the Louvre to see Marie Antoinette’s bed.

Bye-bye, unwitting pawn of Disney.  Hello future historian!  🙂


13 Responses to “A Royal Flush”

  1. Leptir March 21, 2010 at 7:52 pm #

    Thank you for real princesses cards, i downloaded it.

  2. Marcy March 21, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

    I swear, each time I read one of your posts, I want to scream “This is wonderful! THIS is Montessori!!” How amazing to be able to take a commercial obsession into an interest in the real world, in people who devote their lives to good causes, learning geography, etc. I am in awe. =)

  3. Marcy March 21, 2010 at 8:54 pm #

    PS- I’ve been wanting to try to make some cards to use with my 2yo at home, but (and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this) I don’t really know what’s the best way to get them laminated! I remember seeing machines that schools use, but if I don’t have access to one of those, what should I do? Are there ways to do it easily at home, or should I take them somewhere? Thanks =)

  4. sands March 21, 2010 at 11:40 pm #

    Ahh Disney, the empire of nice packaging. You are a truly gifted Montessori teacher.

    • montessorimatters March 22, 2010 at 12:58 am #

      @ Leptir – I hope you and your students enjoy them!

      @ Marcy – Awww, thank you for your lovely comment. 🙂 As for laminating, there are a few options: I go to my local “teacher’s store”, aka Lakeshore Learning Center. They have amazing laminating machines like the ones schools use, and they charge $0.29/foot. You can research to see if there’s a Lakeshore in your area. If not, then Staples laminates, but they are SUPER expensive because they use individual contact sheets. I don’t recommend you go with them… You’re better off buying your own laminating machine (try Michael’s or Wal-Mart) and buying the contact sheets. The great thing about classified cards is that you can use them for vocabulary when your child is young, and again for reading classification when he starts to read! 🙂 Hope this helps…

      @ Sands – Thank you for your kind words. My intent is to help people realize that they have a choice in what they expose their children to (as well as a responsibility to consider the long-term impact), and that they don’t have to be victims of the system!

  5. Cynthia Dyer March 22, 2010 at 2:01 am #

    Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! Talk about keeping it firmly anchored in the real world.
    Now if we could just find some way to ban Spiderman and his pals from the classroom….

  6. Montessoribeginnings March 22, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    Cynthia took the words right out of my mouth! Brilliant idea. I try to keep my girl well away from any type of princesses but if she ever asks I’ll know where to turn!
    On a similar note we tried to buy her a new toothbrush last week and I was dumbfounded to find that all they had were branded ones! I had no other option but to get her one with some sort of TV or movie character on it(for twice the money as well). Luckily none of them had any meaning to her and we got her a donkey one(from Winnie the Pooh). I was none too impressed to be forced into buying a brand name toothbrush of all things!!
    I suppose I could have gone to other stores and searched but really for a toothbrush? We had the same problem with sunglasses today but luckily this time I found a tiny stand tucked in the corner with non-branded ones and was lucky enough also to get ones that weren’t pink!! I felt like it was a real victory!!

  7. Majoranka March 22, 2010 at 4:13 pm #

    *a regular reader de-lurking*
    What a great idea! I also can’t stand Disney princesses.
    Sorry for barging in, but I couldn’t resist recommending two Disney antidotes. If anyone here is looking for an animated children’s movie with great girl role models (who also happen to be princesses!), I must recommend Princess Arete and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

    Princess Arete, a slow-paced movie suitable for younger children, is based on a feminist fairy tale “The Clever Princess” by Diana Coles.
    Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was directed by the famous director Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away). In my opinion, this film is suitable for older children, because it contains scenes of violence and sadness. However, it is a film with a strong pacifist and environmental message, and it doesn’t glorify violence at all.

    I hope it comes in handy, feel free to delete me if you feel it clogs up the board.

  8. PS Montessori March 22, 2010 at 5:53 pm #

    Marcy – I’m a big fan of the Xyron 900. It’s light, portable, and has no wires. The heated machines do a bit better, but for small uses, this is great. I got mine at Jo-Ann’s and used one of their big coupons. They generally have it on sale once per year. Good luck!

  9. My Boys' Teacher March 22, 2010 at 8:11 pm #


    I bought a Scotch brand laminator at Sam’s Club/Wal-Mart for $22. I buy my laminating sheets at laminator.com for ten cents each. They have free shipping when you meet a certain price point (which I always do).

  10. michaeleriksson March 23, 2010 at 3:14 am #

    An interesting read and a good example of how a horse’s preferences for beverage can be used for better effect than a mere “leading to water”.

    I have a two comments:

    o I have the impression that at least the mother in the introduction (possibly the sister’s teacher too) sees it as a problem that her girl has “girlie” interests. This is actually more disturbing to me than Disney. Let girls and boys go their natural way without forcing them to be something they do not want to be. (Above all, do not uncritically buy the gender-feministic pseudo-science.)

    o Girls have liked princesses since long before Disney—which just has had the ability to find out what goes over well. If we look at many fairy tales of old (whether used by Disney or not), themes like “poor girl marries handsome prince” are very common. The same applies to adventures of princes and princesses in general. The exact form and quantity may well have an indoctrinating effect, but in the end it is Disney which follows were the girls lead, not the other way around. (Similar statements apply to Barbie, my little pony, whatnot.)

  11. EV March 23, 2010 at 12:06 pm #

    Way to move beyond your own desires and encourage the child’s interests!

    As an alternative to laminating, digital printers (as in the professionals not personal computer printers) will print on a plastic material which is lovely. The digital printer will sometimes print stuff at the end his job when he is doing a run of all things morgue tags.


  1. %tag%? A Royal Flush « Montessori Matters | Lernspielzeug.TV - March 21, 2010

    […] More here:  A Royal Flush « Montessori Matters […]

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