Sex, Drugs, and…Thomas the Train

Charis Dennison

Charis Dennison

We were pleased to host Charis Denison for a recent PKS学习 event. Charis is an expert in human development, youth advocacy, and in curricula that teach kids to make healthy choices. Charis works with schools near (Urban, SF Day, Stuart Hall, Hamlin) and far (Punahou in Hawaii, Deerfield in Massachusetts), and has been partnering with us for the last two years as we have prepared to have older (read: pubescent) students in our community.

Each year when Charis visits, we take a moment revisit our approach to what used to be called “sex ed.” Today, schools like ours base this part of the curriculum on research that shows, convincingly, that “the biological, cultural, and ethical components of ‘sex ed’ must be part of a holistic effort to help each child develop an integrated, confident sense of self” (Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common project).

In other words, ensuring that your future teenager makes healthy choices, navigates through toxic external pressures, and enters young adulthood as a powerful, confident self-advocate begins when they are toddlers and continues throughout their development. Conversations around consent, fantasy vs. reality, and critical thinking can begin with our youngest kids, and these same concepts can be later applied to the specifics of sexuality.

One example from Charis’s visit: Thomas the Train often tells his viewers, “if you’re having fun playing a game but your friends are not, you have to stop. And if they are having fun and you are not, you should stop.” This provides a teachable moment for toddlers as we discuss with them how important it is to consider other people’s feelings, while also paying attention to our own; a concept later called “consent.”

Another way to put this is that "Sex Education" isn’t just about sex — rather, it’s a lens to overlay as we deepen our work on critical thinking balanced with emotional literacy. As our children grow and mature, we want to provide them with the knowledge and skills to engage in experiences that end with honor and not regret. This takes careful integration of our ongoing work on self-awareness, confident and clear boundary setting, and perspective-taking as, starting in 4th grade, we investigate new topics like puberty, sexual activity, pregnancy and contraception, and deepen previously introduced topics such as consent and gender spectrum. Please reach out to Carin Chou if you have any questions about your child's grade-level curriculum, or the materials and resources we use in class.