PEACEFUL LIVING SKILLS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
By Sonnie McFarland
All around we see suffering in our world because so many people only know how to act from a paradigm of confrontation, conflict and war. They are unaware of alternative ways to respond to life. To transform our current culture of violence into a culture of peace we must provide children with the tools to interact from a position of respect, understanding and cooperation so that a culture of peace can emerge
Children come into this world with pure love in their hearts. When this love is recognized and consistently reflected back to them, they are able to develop their fullest potential and become responsible citizens of the world. However, when the significant adults in their lives fail to see them in this manner, and instead reflect negative attributes back to them, children assume negative self images, experience deep frustration and often become unproductive or violent members of society. It is imperative that we consciously sow seeds of peace by reflecting back to the children their intrinsic nature of love and provide them with environments at home and school to help them develop peaceful living skills. To ignore this, is to invite the seeds of anger to take root and flower into violence.
…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 lies the part that education has to play in the struggle between war and peace…. –Montessori 1
The Flower of Peace Model
To establish a systematic approach to implementing education for peace, it is helpful to have a framework to serve as a point of reference. The Flower of Peace Model serves this purpose with its six components:
Spirit of Love.
The word “Spirit” does not speak to any particular culture or religion, but the connecting love that resides deep within all people, nature and the universe. This model focuses on the interrelationship of all things with the Spirit of Love as the common bond.
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.
Self Awareness activities are those that bring greater understanding and appreciation of the essential nature and potentials within each individual.
Community Awareness activities focus on developing nurturing relationships with others and creating cooperative communities.
Cultural Awareness activities focus on recognizing the connection among people, appreciating cultural differences, developing compassion and encouraging involvement when appropriate.
Environmental Awareness activities focus on appreciating the interconnectedness and fragility of our global environment, caring for the environment, preserving resources and promoting engagement when appropriate. .
In our lives self, community, cultural and environmental awareness overlap and affect one another. This can be symbolized by seeing each awareness as a circle connected to the other three circles. Where they intersect, the Spirit of Love shines.
For a lasting peace to be maintained individuals must first experience inner peace, which comes from identification with the Spirit of Love within. From this center comes recognition of the Spirit of Love in community culture and the environment.
There are four planes of development as shown below. At each plane it is important to consciously implement activities in the areas of self, community, cultural and environmental awareness.
By combining the above elements, we can form a beautiful lotus flower. The Basic Needs component is symbolically represented by a green lily pad that serves as the foundation for peace. Each of the four quatrefoils is placed on top of the lily pad and the Spirit of Love is added at the center as the connecting link between all the elements.
Peaceful Living Skills Activities
In addition to the amazing materials available in the Montessori classroom, there are additional activities to help children consciously be aware of their essential nature and give them self management skills to keep them centered in their spirit of love. With this knowledge, children more easily maintain positive self-images, make thoughtful choices, and manifest respectful behavior. I will share four such activities from my book, Honoring the Light of the Child – Nurturing Peaceful Living Skills in Young Children, 2 Each represents Self, Community, Cultural or Environmental Awareness.
See My Love
Children enthusiastically embrace the concept that they have a light of love as their essential nature. It is as if they are waiting for someone to see them in their true light. This exercise demonstrates that their spirit of love is always present, even though it might be dim.
- Peaceful Person Template: (Cut a simple picture of a body out of the two sides of a file folder. Place and glue a piece of white, brown and orange tissue paper between the two sides. Attach the sides together.)
- 6” x 6” piece of black tissue
- Small flashlight
- Hold up the Peaceful Person Template. Remind the children that every person has a unique physical body. Reflect on the differences in the children’s physical characteristics and discuss how special it is that everyone’s physical body is different.
- Tell the children that within every person there is something that is the same. Ask them to close their eyes. Hold the lighted flashlight at the center of the Peaceful Person’s Chest. Have the children open their eyes.
- Ask the children what they think it represents. Share that this light represents the love that lives within everyone. Talk about times when they feel this light of love.
- Explain that there are times when this light of love isn’t as bright. Have them close their eyes. Cover the flashlight with the black tissue paper and shine it at the center of the Peaceful Person’s Chest once again. Have the children open their eyes.
- Discuss those times when their light of love may not shine so brightly and reassure them that the light of love never goes away even if it is dim. Tell them that one way to help the love light shine brightly again is to breathe deeply.
- Have them breathe deeply three times and take the tissue away from the light to restore it to its full light.
Resolving Conflict Peacefully
This activity provides a clear procedure that helps children resolve their difficulties in a peaceful manner through expressing what they are feeling and listening to one another.
- Flower and Vase
- Ask one child to get a rug and one to get the Peace Flower.
- Have the children sit facing one another while you sit as the third person in the triangle.
- Outline the procedure for the children. i.e. Child #1 will hold the Peace Flower and tell Child #2, 1) What happened, and 2) How he feels. Child #2 will listen and tell Child #1 what he heard. Once Child #1 feels heard, he gives the Peace Flower to Child #2 and the process is repeated.
- Once both children have expressed themselves and feel heard, put the Peace Flower in the vase. Sum up the difficulties.
- Ask the children to come up with creative ideas to solve their conflict.
- When a solution has been reached encourage them to “declare peace” by holding the Peace Flower as depicted in the above picture.
Appreciating Differences in People
This activity reinforces the concept that all people, regardless of physical differences have a love light.
- Six Peaceful People of varying shades of felt with a love light at the chest (glitter glue)
- Lay each person around the globe as pictured above and tell this story.
“Long ago people were aware that all people had love lights and unique differences. They enjoyed this and lived together peacefully. Over time, they became afraid of differences and chose to only live near people who looked liked them.”
- Pick up one felt person, hold it in a standing position and turn it so the love light is not visible to the children and say. ”I do not like how you look. I am better than you and will only be with people who look like me.” Place this felt person face down so the love light does not show. Repeat this process with each person.
- “The people became selfish and greedy and were not happy. Then one day they heard something (ring bell) and looked up to see a rainbow of many colors. It was so beautiful that the people began to feel something warm inside of them—love!”
- Stand up the first felt person so the love light is facing the children and say, “I feel love in my heart. I don’t need to be afraid of people who are different. I apologize for being so selfish. Let’s be friends again.” Turn the second person over and hold in your hand. “One by one they apologized to one another and became peaceful people once again. Continue around the circle until you have three people in each hand with love lights facing out.
- Lay all six people in a line with love lights shining out and say, “The people all agreed that it was much better to love one another, enjoy their differences and be peaceful people.”
The Web of Life
This activity provides a concrete activity to dramatically demonstrate the interconnectedness of the Sun, Water, Air, Soil, Plants, Animals and Humans.
- Seven felt patterns representing the above elements. The sun needs six 4’ yarn lengths attached. The others need five. Glue a jewelry pin to the back of each element.
- Seven children, with elements attached, form a circle with the Human on the right side of the Sun.
- The Sun asks each of the elements if they need its energy to be healthy. As each responds positively, the Sun gives a strand of yarn.
- Each element takes a turn to go around the circle asking the other elements if they need its energy to be healthy. When the Sun is asked, it responds by saying, “No, I stand alone and share my energy to the Earth.”
- When it is the Human’s turn, he learns that none of the elements need his energy to sustain them, but they do need him to take care of them. The Human then tells them how he can help them stay healthy.
If we could hear the heartfelt thoughts of children I think they are saying to us:
I am a child with a Vision to share
Of a world of peace and a world of care.
I so recently came to planet Earth
That I remember the Peace I had at birth.
Please see my Love and nurture me,
To make Peace on Earth a reality.
May we work together to bring greater awareness of the need for conscious education for peace for our children and thus promote a more peaceful world.
Montessori, Maria. Peace and Education. Adyar: Visanta Press, 1986, pp. 20-21.
McFarland, Sonnie. Honoring the Light of the Child – Activities to Nurture Peaceful Living Skills in Young Children. Buena Vista, CO: Shining Mountains Press, 2004
Sonnie McFarland is an International Presenter on Peace Education, Chair of the AMS Peace Committee, author of two books, Honoring the Light of the Child – Activities to Nurture Peaceful Living Skills in Yong Children and Shining Through – A Teacher’s Handbook on Transformation and Peace Education Instructor for several Montessori Education Centers. www.ShiningMountainsPress.com
Sonnie McFarland – PO Box 4155, Buena Vista, CO 81211
Phone: 719 395 3969