“I beg the dear all powerful children to unite with me for the building of peace in Man and in the World.” ~ Dr. Maria Montessori.
Montessori education has been referred to as "peace education" and even Gandhi praised Montessori's approach to world peace. "If we are to teach real peace in this world… we shall have to begin with the children."—Mahatma Gandhi. So, how is PEACE cultivated in a Montessori environment? Maria Montessori believed in freedom of movement, the power of observation, and the need to "follow the child." So, since children in a Montessori classroom are free to choose an activity and work at their pace, as well as are free to move around the classroom, the teacher's main goal is to make sure that children are engaged in their prepared environment and offered an opportunity for immense concentration. "Work cycles" are valued and protected, allowing children to experience the sense of security, satisfaction, and joy from their uninterrupted work.
Also, through Grace and Courtesy lessons, children are given tools for peacefully resolving conflicts and thus cultivating a peaceful, productive and harmonious environment for learning. Children are proactively shown by example how to respect a classmate's work, how to carefully walk around a work rug, or how to interrupt politely.
Moreover, by teaching children gratitude as a part of peace education, we can ensure that they have all the tools they would need to meet every situation with a mindset of abundance, appreciation, and joy. Gratitude is a powerful mindset of "having enough" which brings the fullness of life, and we as parents and teachers can play a vital role in helping our children learn a lifelong appreciation for what we already have, rather than what we do not. Montessori pedagogy defines gratitude as an active appreciation for the everyday elements that nourish the whole child — including their growing bodies, minds, and spirits. Despite the obvious benefits that gratitude offers developing minds, neuroscience proves just how effective daily gratitude can be: improved physical and psychological well-being, higher self-esteem, and even longer lifespans. Exercises in Grace and Courtesy reflect Montessori's method of “peace education” when children are shown ways to roleplay situations to use “please” and “thank you” or to offer help to a friend in need, as well as using manners at the right time and place. With regular gentile reinforcement, simple scenarios would prompt children to exercise grace, courtesy, and gratitude when the situation requires. So, to help children slow down and plant a seed of gratitude, we can create a PEACE shelf or a corner which would provide a child with a space for regular self-reflection.
Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditation and is the English translation of the Pali word "Sati" which means "activity." However, a secular practice of mindfulness has entered the American mainstream in recent years in part through the work of Jon Kabat-Zin and Eckert Tolle. Research studies have supported the conclusion that the practice of mindfulness is strongly correlated with well-being and perceived health and that worry contributes to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. We usually worry about the future: however, those imagined events might never even materialize, and at a present, there is little we can do about them since they are in the future … out of reach. So, by bringing our attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, by bringing mindfulness into our daily lives through the practice of meditation, we can experience true bliss and happiness of "now" and reduce both rumination and worry. So, let's stop worrying and start living!
A closer look: our ☮️PEACE shelf is an inviting place where Julia and Adrian can go to throughout the day to check-in with themselves and observe their ever-changing emotions. With a zen garden to touch and feel, a mindful puzzle to assemble, a smelling box to sensorially stimulate the olfactory sense of smell, children know that they have a place where they can quiet their mind and focus on the present moment.
What is on our ☮️Peace Shelf:
- Pewter Labyrinth (buy here) with a stylus for 'walking' it. Tracing the labyrinth path is an ancient meditation form often described as a path to wisdom and peace and commonly used as a tool for personal reflection, psychological and spiritual transformation, and comfort. A child would run a fingertip or a stylus along the grooved path. And because labyrinths are right-brain activity enhancers, tracing a labyrinth path is calming for both: adults and children.
- Tibetian Singing Bowl (made in Nepal) with leather wrapped wooden stricker (buy here) is one of my children's favorite meditational tools. Once they had learned how to make the bowl "sing" the healing sound is nothing I have heard before.
- Four Pebbles to accompany a book A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles (buy here - read about it here);
- Wooden hand-made Dove puzzle (buy here) which symbolizes peace and harmony.
- Wooden Mandala puzzle (buy here) is hand-painted in ecological colors, presenting an intricate combination of beauty and aesthetics for children to work on peacefully. (Each puzzle is unique and made to order.)
- Tibetan Buddhist Wooden Prayer 8 mm Beads Wrist Mala Bracelet (buy here or similar here) is handmade in Nepal and is of exceptional quality.
- Scented Calming Box (see below);
- Thai Blessing Zen Buddha statue (buy here or similar here) is a perfect addition to our peace corner as it diversifies our peace education, opening doors to discussing an inspiring story of a prince who renounced the glory and riches in a pursuit of enlightenment.
- Zen🕉 Garden Meditation Sandbox (below/buy here) is a type of Mindfulness Meditation: a miniature version of the traditional Japanese meditative garden, where assorted objects provide visual interest and a counterpoint to the garden's serene patterns. (More about Zen Garden here.)
This Zen Garden is also an easy DIY, and all you need to participate in the art of Zen gardening:
- purified sand (you can also use salt, sugar, polenta or any other tiny grain),
- small objects: e.g. marbles, polished rocks (we also added a starfish, shark tooth etc.),
- a small rake,
- and a tray to contain everything.
Dealing with Conflict
Children are born mindful, and with wisdom we can keep this skill alive: 'Montessori is wonderful in this way'. - The Dalai Lama.
In Montessori ☮️PEACE education, when two children are experiencing conflict, it can be difficult for each child to truly listen to what the other child is saying. To assist with this, one child can hold a symbol of ☮️PEACE, which generally, in a Montessori classroom, is a🌹 rose (we are using a handmade ❤️heart; a 🕊dove can also be used). A child holding it would state why s/he is upset and then pass the ☮️symbol to the other child who then has a chance to respond, passing back and forth until each child had expressed their feelings and felt adequately acknowledged. Finally, reconciliation would end with a handshake signaling ☮️ PEACE. So, when Julia and Adrian would have a disagreement, I would gently remind them to go to their ☮️PEACE corner and retrieve the ❤️ and speak their hearts💖. They would then sit across from each other on the rug and express their frustrations. Let me tell you, it always works and the PEACE is signaled with a hug. (You may download Peace Table Cards with instructions on how to deal with conflict for free here – I had purchased them from here.)
Building A Peaceful Character
A Peaceful character of the child develops since birth when s/he observes unconditional love, tender care, patience and absence of violence. And "violence" needs not be physical, which is very obvious; at times, phycological violence (taking on a verbal form) can be even more detrimental than physical since it is inconspicuous. Leading by example, by being kind, tolerant and loving, we can show our child that this world can be trusted, that the child can feel safe and secure in it, both outside and inside. And, as the child gets older, you can discuss the pillars, on which a strong loving and peaceful character can be built.
We can help build a peaceful world by building our own character with values and qualities that would shape our finest thoughts, actions/reactions, and feelings.
One of our PEACE materials is a scented calming box. You can add anything that might calm your child like a cinnamon stick or pieces of lavender, or scented dried fruits. For some reasons, this is the first material both of my children open when they retrieve our PEACE box from the shelf.
“Peace is what every human being is craving for, and it can be brought about by humanity through the child.” - Maria Montessori.
- Silence Book (buy here) gently encourages children to stop, listen, and reflect on their experiences and the world around them.
- If the World Were a Village: A Book about the World's People (buy here) explores the lives of the hundred villagers. Children will discover that life in other nations is often very different from their own. If the World Were a Village is part of CitizenKid: a collection of books that inform children about the world and inspire them to be better global citizens.
- The Listening Walk book (buy here) is one of the children's favorite! Discover your world filled with wonderful and surprising sounds which otherwise get drowned-out in our noisy environment.
- A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles book (buy here) shows a child a concrete way to be mindful by connecting to a pebble representing an image of nature.
- Meditation Is an Open Sky book (buy here) offers a terrific introduction to simple child-friendly mindfulness/meditation exercises.
- What is God? book (buy here) is an eloquent introduction to the ideas behind God and various religion, which brings forward complex ideas in a way children will understand. It is written with a simple clarity and beautifully illustrated with just the right blend of seriousness and humor.
- Maria Montessori: A Biography For And By Children book (buy here) is written in a simple child-accessible way and is full of children's drawings depicting the life of Maria Montessori.
- Mindful Movements: Ten Exercises for Well-Being book (buy here) offers children gentle series of physical movements based on Yoga and Tai Chi movements, as an approach to Buddhist teachings. Mindful Movements book is a great meditational "yoga" manual: simple enough for a child to follow and substantial enough to provide a simple base for meditational movements.
For more book ideas, see here "☮️PEACE Education•Have you Filled a Bucket Today? 📚Book."
Read here 🎥 "Emotions (Body) •Feelings (Mind) ✂️DIY 😃😮😡😢☹️😆Puppets ♻️🚽Craft."
For more about our ☮️PEACE Education, read here "🕉Mindfulness with Children."
For more on Gratitude and Thanksgiving, read here "🙏Thankful 🌳Tree🍂 • 🦃Thanksgiving Inspired ✂️Craft."
For more on Thanksgiving-Inspired activities, see here "🦃Thanksgiving Inspired Homeschooling 101 Unit Study."