The Peace Curriculum we use in the classroom is based on Honoring the Light of the Child by Sonnie McFarland. As with all things in the Montessori Primary classroom, the idea is to give the children a concrete sensorial experience of whatever concept we are trying to teach. Because of our work on peace in the classroom, the children may be coming home with language and actions that are new to you at home. The purpose of the following brief explanations is to give you a better understanding of where these actions and words are coming from, and to allow you to better support your children’s continued exploration of what it means to be a peaceful person.
Love Light. You may have heard your children talk about their own love lights shining brightly or dimly, or they may have asked you about your love light. The love light concept is not tied to any particular culture or belief system; it is simply the light of love that shines in all human beings. For the lesson we have a cutout generic shape of a person through which the light of a flashlight can see shining; this is our Peaceful Person. First we talk about each person on planet Earth being unique; we all look different in some ways and we are all special. We then talk about something that is the same in all of us: we all have a love light shining inside. By shining the flashlight through the peaceful person in the location of the heart we give the children an experience of what a love light is.
Next, we talk about how the love light works. Sometimes our love lights shine brightly, and sometimes they shine more dimly. When we feel happy, feel loved, complete a task to our own satisfaction, or help another person our love lights shine brightly. When we are sad, mad, or frightened, our love lights shine more dimly. To illustrate this, we put a filter between the flashlight and the peaceful person so that the light shining through can still be seen, but not as brightly. We tell the children it is important to know that though our love lights sometimes shine dimly, they cannot be extinguished and that there are things we can do when they are dim to make them shine brightly again. We then introduce one such method, deep breathing. As we all breathe deeply together, in through the nose and out through the mouth, with straight backs and quiet bodies, we remove the filter to show the love light of the peaceful person shining brightly again. Through this simple lesson we have given the children direct experience of the concepts that we are all special and unique, we all have love lights within us, sometimes our love lights shine more brightly and sometimes more dimly, and that we can breathe slowly and deeply to help our love lights to shine brightly again.
Silence. Next we introduce another practice the children can use to be more aware of their love lights and to help them shine brightly, Silence. Dr. Maria Montessori discovered that the children in her first classrooms loved the activity of making silence, so much so that she made a game of it. When the children play the Silence Game they all gather together in one area of the classroom, quiet their minds and bodies, and sit in silence. A teacher then quietly says each child’s name one at a time from a different part of the classroom. When a child hears his or her name that child quietly stands, walks over to the teacher, sits down, and makes silence again. The game is over when all the children have been called and are making silence in the new location. This activity is not used to control the noise or energy level of the children, but rather only when they are already working with purpose and self-control.
Peace Candle. The next lesson we introduce is the Peace Candle. We use a real candle when we are making silence as a group and have a battery-operated one for the children to use on their own. Before we make silence as a group we invite the children to concentrate on their love lights. Afterwards we ask them how their love lights felt after making silence. “Warm,” or, “bright”, are common responses. We then let the children know they can use the battery-operated candle to make silence by themselves or in groups any time they want. This is another practice that can help their love lights to shine brightly.
Love Light Necklaces. We give the children a concrete symbol of their love lights, the yellow felt circles on a yellow yarn necklace you may have seen the children wearing in class. These are available in a basket for the children to put on at any time to show everyone that their love light is shining brightly.
Medicine Wheel. The next several lessons revolve around the Medicine Wheel as seen in a vision by a 9 year old Oglala Sioux, Black Elk. Around the turn of the last century Black Elk became very ill and during his illness he had a vision. The following is a brief description of this vision as we share it with the children:
Black Elk saw a great circle that contained everything, all the stars, the planets, and all living things. He saw that everything was good and everything was important. Then he saw the four directions, West, North, East and South. Black Elk saw a road running from West to East. He saw that this was the Road of Difficulties and that all people sometimes walk on this road. Next he saw a road running from North to South. He saw that this was the Road of Peace and that all people sometimes walk on this road. Finally, Black Elk saw a sacred tree at the point where the two roads crossed. He saw that when people walked the Road of Peace by taking care of themselves, others, and the gifts of the Earth, the tree flowered and birds came to roost and sing on the tree.
As we tell this story we introduce concrete representations of each element: the great circle is a felt circle, the directions are felt triangles (black for West, white for North, red for East, and yellow for South), the Road of Difficulties is a black felt strip, the Road of Peace a red felt strip, and the tree, flowers and birds are all cut from felt and placed on the wheel at the appropriate time of the story. After completing the story we explore as a group how our classroom is like the vision: the space, the materials, the people, the plants, and the animals are like the great circle containing everything, the two roads are the choices and actions we make, and the flowering tree is like our love lights. This last connection is the most important: when we are kind and peaceful, our love lights shine brightly, when people walk the Road of Peace, the tree flowers. When you hear your children talking about the Road of Peace or the Road of Difficulties at home, this is the story to which they are referring.
Written by Mr. Kevin