Sex Education in Elementary Schools

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Sex education in elementary schools is one of the most important ways you can help children establish healthy habits and feel comfortable in their bodies. This lesson gives you a sense of what elementary sex education might look like.

Why Elementary School Sex Education?

How to talk about sex in elementary schools is one of the more controversial issues facing educators today. There are those who feel that sex education does not belong in the schools at all, and then there are others who believe that the more we educate children early, the healthier they will be as they grow older. Regardless of your own viewpoint on this sometimes loaded topic, it can be helpful to have a sense of what sex education means in the elementary grades and how to handle some of its more controversial aspects.

Bodies, Growth, and Development

One aspect of sex education that can be extremely important in the elementary years simply has to do with learning about anatomy, physical health, and how bodies grow and change. Some elementary sex education programs focus on teaching children the different parts of their bodies, including their genitals, so that they have appropriate vocabulary for talking about these parts. It will also help them to think in ways that do not inevitably lead to shame or embarrassment. You can also teach elementary school children some of the things they might expect during puberty, and how this might look different depending on their anatomy. The more you can talk about these issues without embarrassment or a sense of secrecy, the more comfortable you can help children feel about how their bodies look and act.

Sexuality, Romance, and Love

A separate but related aspect of sex education has to do with sexuality, love, and romance. Young children are often more aware of these issues than adults might suspect, in part because of media exposure and simply from coexisting in a world with teenagers and adults. It is helpful to talk frankly with children about love and relationships and what is fair and healthy to expect from another person. Many of the issues that come up in community-building in elementary school, such as treating others how you would want to be treated, asking someone before touch their body, and using respectful language toward others, are also relevant to sex education. While you may want to avoid getting into too much detail about sexual acts and behaviors with elementary students, you can certainly teach them about respecting their own and one another's bodies, learning to identify what kinds of touch do and do not feel good, and considering issues of consent in relation to their physical existence.

Media, Stereotypes, and Self-Esteem

Finally, an important part of sex education in elementary school has to do with teaching children to interpret the constant barrage of media messages they are likely to see about sex, bodies, and sexuality. This includes but is not limited to gender stereotypes, harmful messages about body image, and self-esteem. Think about what media your students are exposed to daily and how you can help them think critically about the messages they get about sex and sexuality. Remind parents and colleagues that these messages surround children all the time whether we talk about them or not.

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