Saturday, September 25, 2010

Peace Week and Independent Conflict Resolution

This past Tuesday we celebrated International Peace Day. We marked it on our calendar in advance, and when the day came, we had a large group lesson on peace. I made a small book with about the meaning of peace to read to the children and to talk about. The pictures and words were to make a very abstract concept, such as peace, more tangible and relative to the children and to school life.

Here is what I wrote in the book:

Peace is solving problems with words.
Peace is taking care of everyone in our community.
Peace is playing together and helping each other in the game.
Peace is wishing well for others.
Peace is letting others have a turn.
Peace is helping others understand.
Peace is waiting your turn.
When we are peaceful, we feel safe and happy.

I illustrated each sentence with a photo from the internet, but ultimately the best thing would be to have pictures of the children themselves illustrating these concepts. We left the book all week in our book corner for the children to look at and read.

This week we also reintroduced the peace flower back into our classroom. This year is more challenging with the peace flower routine because we have a lot of non-English speakers. Because of this as well, we have been practicing a lot more using the peace flower in large group lessons.

Our peace flower is a plastic flower that sits on our tiny "peace shelf". The way I introduce it to the children is during a large group lesson I tell them that it is a material for helping them solve their problems with words. Then I show how to use it by inviting one of the children to stand with me (I pick an old friend who knows what they are supposed to say) and say:

Me: "Henry, I don't like it when you rip my paper."
Henry: "What can I do to make you feel better?"
Me: "Help me fix it and don't do it again."
Henry: "Ok." (carries out the solution)

This is for simple conflicts. But as the weeks progress, we give lessons on how to solve more difficult problems like when two people have done things to each other that they don't like.

At the beginning, the peace flower use requires some adult supervision (especially for the new and younger children) but in time, the children use it independently. I have had some families tell me that their child has asked to have a peace flower at home as well to solve problems with their siblings (or parents).

Of course, there are myriads of complexities when it comes to children's problems and this is just a very simplified template for dealing with all of it. But it is one of the tools we choose to give to the children in our room to help with the day to day difficulties.

Our use of the peace flower use tied in perfectly to our Conscious Discipline session, which was about Assertiveness. Here's the low down about conflict resolution that they gave us:


  1. Go to victim first
  2. Validate their feelings (You look very angry about that, you look like you are feeling very sad...)
  3. Ask the child if they liked what the other person did.
  4. Go with them to the other child. And have them say "I don't like it when you..."
  5. Help them find a solution: "At school you may not ... because it is not safe (or whatever the reason)... If you want to ... what could you do next time?

The bottom line is that, whether we use a prop or not, our job is not to be the judges or detectives of what happened, but to help children solve their problems in a peaceful manner.

Aside from practicing conflict resolution as part of grace and courtesy in the classroom, teaching children how to use an assertive voice when something happens that they don't like, as well as making pictures of the rules of the classroom and explaining them clearly can help as well.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Softness and Safety

"Softness triumphs over harness" Lao Tzu

It rained a lot this morning, which is unusual here and which brings back a lot of memories of home in Costa Rica where it really RAINS (not our meager 5 minute sorry sprinklings) for about half of the year. While I was driving, I was remembering when I was little. I grew up in the rural mountains of San Jose and sometimes when it rained I would impermeate myself: putting on my very synthetic material sweat pants and sweater (so synthetic that they were virtually waterproof), my black rubber boots (they didn't make the nice patterned colorful ones that we have now back then), socks on my hands, and a small purple umbrella. And I would go and slosh around the puddles under the clusia trees.

For some reason, remembering this triggered a feeling memory. An emotion memory. I remember what it felt like to be home in the afternoons after school, on raily ones in my "waterproof" gear, on worn corduroy couch, watching TV, or playing with my brother and sister. The feeling of safetly and softness.

I thought about those two feelings and how perhaps they sum up what children WANT to be feeling at all times. Safe and soft. And that perhaps, especially during these first weeks of orientation at school, especially for new and very young children, those two feelings are very important. To trust me and to trust the environment they have to feel safe. And I can help them do that through many ways (routines, patterns, rules, consistency, etc.- hard ways), but also I can help them develop that feeling that by exuding a softness that means "everything is ok."

I will try, even when the little chaos is erupting, to be firm and clear, but also make sure that I make that softness accessible to them.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Silence as a Celebration

See how nature - trees, flowers, grass - grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence.... We need silence to be able to touch souls. ~Mother Teresa

During the recent ceremony for the passing of a dear friend, a group of us sat together to observe a moment of silence. It was a very powerful and bonding experience. The silence brought us closer together and through it, we acknowledged the loss more eloquently than with anything that could have been spoken.

Making silence together as adults is usually reserved for special moments, and unfortunately in my life, it has been mostly reserved for times of grief. Silence has become a consciously important part of my life this year, and as a meditation practitioner, silence in my mind as well as from my mouth has become a haven that I turn to at the end of most days. In this way I've found there is a very joyful side to silence.

I've been thinking recently about the importance of regular practice of the silence game in the environment and how, if done consistently, it can also be a very bonding experience for the group. (The best example of the silence lesson I have ever seen was at the Colegio Montessori San Juan in Puerto Rico, where the master teacher Rosemarie raised her small chalkboard that read "Silence" and there was immediate and absolute stillness in the room. It was textbook "The Secret of Childhood." Lots of tears from me when I experienced it sitting in my little observer's stool. It scarred me with an image of what quality Montessori can look like. )

Today it occurred to me that as much as I like to share moments of silence with the children, I could share it with the adults of the school as well. Our celebrations at school (birthdays, special events) tend to be quite boisterous with lots of song and rowdiness (it doesn't get more boisterous than the end of "Happy Birthday" in Dutch where everyone stands up and shouts HOORAY!!!! three times.) How about introducing silence also as a way to celebrate? Along with adults as well... As an experiment, I will try a modified version of the silence game with the adults at our first parent evening next week. I am curious about how it will feel.

Monday, September 6, 2010



During the first week of this school year, as a way of introducing the new children to the returning children, we once again had a "Helping Hands" ceremony.

To further kindle a feeling of togetherness among the group, we invited all the children to bring to school a photograph of their family. We sat together at the end of the day and each child introduced their picture and said, at the very least, the names of the people in their family. I took the opportunity also to share about what I feel that family means. We bound the portraits together in a small book and made it available to the children to look at in our book corner. This helped the children get better acquainted with one another, it helped bridge the school and home, and also served as a great language prompt in the book corner.

Later in the week, I invited the older children to take the "Family Book" to a table as a work and make a portrait of their family on large white paper with color pencils.

Last week, we once again discussed the meaning of family and I mentioned that our community at school is like a family. After the discussion, each child took a turn taping small photographs of themselves into the heart we posted at the entrance of the school to symbolize our school family. At the end of the exercise, we noticed that we have a large school family, and that we are fortunate to have one another for friendship and assistance.



Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Naomi Shihab Nye