By Jessica Beckinger, Birch Lane Montessori K/1 Teacher?
Peace Education is an important part of Montessori pedagogy. The term, peace education, signifies instruction that helps children become peaceful individuals (peaceful inside themselves) and peaceful citizens (peaceful towards others). Montessori is a “whole child” approach to education. Instructors do not focus solely on reading, writing, and mathematics; we are equally concerned with the social/ emotional well-being of our students. In our weekly peace education lessons, children learn healthy ways to calm their bodies when they’re sad or mad, how to positively resolve conflicts with friends, and grace and courtesy (Montessori-speak for good manners).
In our classroom at Birch Lane Elementary, we have a “Peace Area.” It is the small, white bookcase under the dry-erase boards, surrounded by the bean bag chairs. This bookcase contains the tools and books for our peace education lessons. Through modeling, direct instruction, and group practice, we teach our students to find healthy ways to cope with their emotions. For example, if a child needs to calm his body, he has quite a few options to do so independently in our classroom. We have taught the students several different breathing techniques. We also provide stress balls, yoga dice (students roll the dice and try three different yoga poses), a cuddly stuffed animal, and some peaceful books. We have added tools from our school counselor to the peace shelves as well such as the “cool off can” and the feelings board. Our counselor has shown the children how to use these items during their lessons with her. Of course, teachers offer hugs and words of comfort when students are upset, but our goal is to give the children strategies that they can take with them once they leave our classroom and use at home or at school, throughout their childhoods.
Most Montessori peace areas have a peace rose. The rose (it could really be any object) is simply a visual aid to help children resolve conflicts with peers. If two students have a disagreement, they can choose to go sit in the peace area to work through the problem. Whomever is holding the rose is the speaker. The other child must listen quietly until the first child has said his piece. The rose is then handed to the second child who takes his turn to speak while the first listens. The rose is passed back and forth until the children feel the issue has been resolved.
Grace and courtesy is part of the Montessori curriculum at every age. Grace and courtesy lessons run a wide gamut of topics; children practice skills like politely interrupting, greeting others, apologizing, pushing in chairs, rolling up job rugs, winning or losing graciously, helping friends in need, personal hygiene, using materials gently, taking turns, waiting patiently, making eye contact, asking before touching someone’s body, inside vs. outside voices, and more. Teachers role-play the “right” and “wrong” way to do these things during lessons to the amusement of the students; we strive to make lessons fun while providing children with the specific words and actions necessary to meet the lesson objective. Good manners are not obsolete and must be taught and consistently reinforced.
Our overreaching goal as teachers and parents is to help children become increasingly independent in preparation for adulthood. Independence is important not only in academics and practical life skills, but with social/ emotional skills as well. When your kiddos are upset, encourage them to try some healthy coping strategies: deep breathing, draw a picture, take a walk, journal, hug a stuffed animal, listen to music, take a break, do a yoga pose, think of things they’re grateful for, count to 10, squeeze a stress ball, read a book, do some jumping jacks, etc. Try lots of different strategies; find the ones that appeal to your child. Everyone is different. You would begin by doing these things with your child (modeling) and move towards children trying them on their own (no longer being reliant on you to soothe them).
Consider creating a little peace shelf, corner, or table at home with comfy cushions and self-soothing objects. If you have multiple children, you could put a silk flower in a vase and help the kids use it for conflict resolution. It is reassuring for children to know there is a special place for them to go when they are upset.
Above all, lead by example. Children will do as we do so let your child know that you get frustrated, hurt, and sad sometimes and show him how you cope with those feelings in a healthy way. Let him see the resolution piece, not just the upset. How, specifically, did you go from feeling mad or sad to feeling better? Safeguard your own emotional well-being in this stressful world so you can pass your inner peace along to your child.