Explaining nonbinary to children

I’ve explained what nonbinary means here, but how do we explain it to a child? Well, I think it helps to start by explaining the word binary. Pretty young kids will know the words unicycle, bicycle and tricycle. Either on their own or with a bit of prompting, maybe some pictures, they’ll figure out the prefixes: uni- means one, bi- means two, and tri- means three.



So they’ll get that binary has to do with two. You can explain that binary is about there being two groups.

There’s then lots of different ways you can talk about two groups and how good or more importantly not so good two groups are for sorting things. (I’ll write another post with one of my favourite sorting activities in a later blog, but try and come up with some on your own. If you think of a good one, and even better try it out, let me know and I can share it.) Thinking in this expansive way isn’t just important for gender, but for everything! Helping kids see that the world is complex, helping them see the grey areas, and that it’s good to see this, is really important. Thinking in binary ways often leads to ‘us’ and ‘them’ positioning which is limiting and can lead to unnecessary conflict.

Once the children have developed their thinking on two groups, then you can introduce non-binary. Breaking the word up again they’ll probably be able to tell you, with prompting if necessary, that the prefix non- means not, so, not two groups. You can then apply this to gender. Nonbinary gender means not two groups for gender, not just boys and girls. Some people are both and some people neither, they are something else.

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