Educating for Peace: A Montessori Best Practice


By Sonnie McFarland

(Article published by Montessori Life, January 2005)

It is upon peace that the very life of the nation depends, perhaps even the progress or decay of our entire Civilization (Montessori, 1986) Seventy two years ago in 1932 Maria Montessori made the above statement to the International Office of Education in Geneva, Switzerland. She had experienced the horrors and ravages of World War I and was speaking to the necessity of consciously educating children for peace. She strongly stated that the seeds of war and violence begin with young children who are not recognized for their intrinsic value.

When the independent life of the child is not recognized with its own characteristics and ends, when the adult man interprets these characteristics and ends, which are different from his, as being errors in the child which he must make speed to correct, there arises between the strong and the weak a struggle which is fatal to mankind. For it is verily upon the perfect and tranquil spiritual life of the child that depends the health or sickness of the soul, the strength or weakness of the character, the clearness or obscurity of the intellect. (Montessori, 1986)

She went on to say that,

But, when the intrinsic value of the child’s personality has been recognized and he has been given room to expand, as in the case of our school (when the child creates for himself an environment suited to his spiritual growth), we have had the revelation of an entirely new child whose astonishing characteristics are the opposite of those that had hitherto been observed. We may, therefore, assert that it would be possible, by the renewing of education, to produce a better type of man, a man endowed with superior characteristics as if belonging to a new race…. Herein lays the part that education has to play in the struggle between war and peace… (Montessori, 1986)

Since Maria Montessori began her first Children’s House in Rome, 97 years ago, we have witnessed the unveiling of “new children” who fulfill their potentials and live life from centers of integrity and positive regard for all life. Indeed, they give us hope in the future for a more peaceful world. A vision we all share in these turbulent and often violent times of 2004.

As Montessori educators we have a great gift to offer the world-an educational philosophy and practice that encourages children to be peaceful within themselves, with others and the environment. This is accomplished by: 1) respecting the intrinsic nature of each child, 2) preparing learning environments to meet the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs of the children, and 3) having aware adults guide the process. When these three elements come together in synchronicity, the children thrive. They feel good about who they are, what they do and how they relate to others. They desire peace because they experience it within themselves.

While all the elements for peace are inherent in the Montessori classroom, there are ways to enhance and expand its manifestation in a more conscious manner. In this same speech to the International Office of Education, Maria Montessori called for a conscious effort to create a Science of Peace.

How strange it is therefore that there exists no science of peace, no science with an outward development comparable at least with the development of the science of war in the matter of armaments and strategy….We must gather together all the elements of this new world and organize them into a science of peace. (Montessori, 1986)

These words challenged me to define “Peace,” and as I met with various audiences over the last few years, I raised the question-“What is peace?” Almost everyone had a different idea about what constituted peace. I then asked myself, how can we systematically and consciously educate our children for peace if we have difficulty defining it? I began playing with all these various aspects of peace and developed a holistic model to serve as a framework for peace education from birth through adulthood. It is called the Flower of Peace Model and is fully described in my new book, Honoring the Light of the Child – Activities to Nurture Peaceful Living Skills in Young Children. (McFarland, 2004)

By having a framework to describe the multi-faceted dimensions of peace education, we can more clearly understand what constitutes peaceful activities, what activities we are actually offering, and determine what additional areas we need to include in the classroom. We can also observe and measure the results of conscious implementation of peace activities and more readily share it with others.

This model is a holistic model which means that the outer world is seen as a reflection of the collective inner world of people. It is only through changing the hearts of individuals that lasting peace can be maintained. Political peace is only as good as the personal peace among the people.

The six basic elements of this model are: 1) Spirit of Love, 2) Basic Needs and Human Rights, 3) Self Awareness, 4) Community Awareness, 5) Cultural Awareness, and 6) Environmental Awareness.

Spirit of Love

The Spirit of Love refers to the connecting love that resides deep within all people, all of nature and throughout the universe. This model focuses on the interrelationship of all things with the Spirit of Love as the common bond. This is central to Montessori’s Cosmic Education with its deep reverence and respect for all of life. This is probably the most important element of educating for peace. Almost everything we teach, if done from a perspective of love, awe and wonder, touches the heart and spirit of the children. When the heart is touched, peace emanates from it.

Basic Needs and Human Rights

In order for peace to flourish and basic human dignity to be sustained, people’s basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, safety, health care, education work and freedom must be met. In our Montessori classrooms we focus on the basic needs of people and encourage the children to develop understanding, empathy and compassion for others. This work often culminates in various service learning projects where the children become involved in thoughtfully helping others. Many of our Montessori children become involved with various United Nations Non-Governmental Organizations (UNNGO’s) that work to meet the basic needs and human rights of individuals around the world.

Self Awareness

Self Awareness activities are those that bring greater understanding and appreciation of the beauty, characteristics, talents and creative potential within each individual. In our Montessori classrooms, we focus on self awareness through the reflection of the light within each child, personal care, grace and courtesy, self-management skills, creative expression, journaling, self reflection, choice making, fostering independence, character education, silence and much more.

Community Awareness

Community Awareness activities focus on developing safe and nurturing communities that encourage respect for the essential nature of others and facilitates effective interpersonal relationships. In our Montessori classrooms we focus on community awareness through activities of grace and courtesy, sharing, cooperative learning, listening skills, empathy training, problem solving, group meetings, conflict resolution, service learning, mentoring, acknowledgements, and much more.

Cultural Awareness

Cultural Awareness activities focus on recognizing the connection or commonality among people, understanding and appreciating cultures, developing compassion for others and encouraging commitment and involvement when responsible action is called for. In our Montessori classrooms we focus on cultural awareness through our work with the fundamental needs of people, human rights, similarity and diversity of other cultures, multi-cultural arts, service learning projects cultural exchanges, cultural immersion experiences and much more.

Environmental Awareness

Environmental Awareness activities focus on establishing an appreciation for the interconnectedness and fragility of our global environment, including our place in it. Further it focuses on nurturing empathy and care for the environment, encouraging responsible use of the environmental resources and promoting responsible engagement when action is called for. This work goes beyond the academic study of the elements of the environment by inspiring awe and wonder in the students. In our Montessori classrooms we focus on environmental awareness through many activities such as the study of the universe, the earth and its elements, botany and zoology, habitats, terrains, the care of plants and animals, gardening, recycling, ecology, use of resources, food chain, outdoor education, and much more.

Most of the activities described above are already embedded within the Montessori curriculum and materials at each plane of development Early Childhood (birth to six), Elementary (six to twelve), Adolescent (twelve to eighteen) and Adult (eighteen and beyond). It is important that we become aware of what we are presenting in the area of peace education and do our best to create a balance of activities within Basic Needs and Human Rights, Self Awareness, Community Awareness, Cultural Awareness and Environmental Awareness. It is also important that we look at howwe are presenting these activities. Are we filled with the spirit of love? Are we inspiring wonder and awe in our students? The more we can answer yes to these questions the more we touch the hearts of the children and educate for peace.

In May of 1999 over 10,000 people, representing hundreds of organizations from around the world, came together in an historic gathering at The Hague in the Netherlands for the purpose of organizing a collaborative and cooperative global effort to begin to change our culture of violence to a culture of peace. Fifty agenda items came out of this gathering and the first agenda item spoke to the necessity for global peace education. The agenda item:

  • Insists that peace education be made compulsory at all levels of the education system
  • Demands that education ministries systematically implement peace education initiatives at a local and national level
  • Calls on development assistance agencies to promote peace education as a component of their teacher training and materials production. (Hague Appeal for Peace, 1999)

Since that time a global network has formed where individuals and groups share and encourage each other in the implementation of peace education at every level throughout the world. The organization leading this effort is the Hague Appeal for Peace in New York City. In 2002, Dr. Betsy Coe, Pat Yonka and I were invited to speak to a gathering of international peace educators at the Hague Appeal for Peace. Our purpose was to share how Montessori schools implement peace education at all levels. We used the Flower of Peace Model as a framework to describe what we do.

At the conclusion of the conference we were inspired by the work that is going on around the world to bring a greater awareness of the need to educate for peace. We also realized that as Montessori educators we have a great deal to offer the global education community in this area. We are one of the few groups that address the young child and recognize the importance of educating for peace at this most sensitive stage of development. Most peace curriculums are designed for the elementary age children and beyond. As Montessori educators we offer excellent examples of experiential peace education as opposed to more traditional ways of learning about peace. Finally, Montessori philosophy and practice has been developing and refining itself for nearly 100 years, has schools worldwide and offers a replicable global model for educating children for peace.

The world of 2004 is crying out for a culture of peace and non violence. People are searching for alternatives and ways to move from a culture of violence to a culture of peace. We, as Montessori educators, have a great gift to share with the world-our best practice of Educating for Peace.

Peace Resources

Peace and Education by Maria Montessori – available at
Peace Seed Connection Newsletter (Peace Education Articles on-line Fall, Winter & Spring Issues)
AMS Peace Table (Peace Materials/UN Materials)


Montessori, Maria, (1986) Peace and Education, Adyar: Visanta Press, 3

Ibid. 20

Ibid. 20-21

Ibid. 3, 31

McFarland, Sonnie. (2004) Honoring the Light of the Child – Activities to Nurture Peaceful Living Skills in Young Children, Buena Vista: Shining Mountains Press. 6-9

Hague Appeal for Peace (1999) 13.

About the Author

SONNIE MCFARLAND IS A LEADER IN THE FIELD OF PEACE EDUCATION. Her background includes more than 30 years as a Montessori teacher and/or Head of School. She currently sits on the American Montessori Society Board, chairs the AMS Peace Committee, presents workshops and consults both nationally and internationally on holistic peace education, including the concepts in her two books, Honoring the Light of the Child – Activities to Nurture Peaceful Living Skills in Young Children and Shining Through – A Teacher’s Handbook on Transformation.

P. O. Box 4155
Buena Vista, CO 81211

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