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Peace Education: Part 2Washington Montessori School
New Preston, Connecticut

Two children create a piece of art about peace

Part 2: How Washington Montessori School Approaches Peace Education 

At WMS, we are fortunate to be building on Dr. Montessori’s strong foundation of kindness, respect, and unwavering positive regard for each individual child. As we explored in Part 1 of this series, Dr. Montessori’s legacy is the precondition of the ongoing allyship and justice work we do. We teach children how to be aware of, learn about, and eventually understand other people’s experiences and perspectives with lessons designed for each sensitive period of their social-emotional brain development. 

Teaching peace and justice to children also means that while we ground ourselves in the pathbreaking justice and antibias work of those who came before us, we must also ready our students for today and tomorrow, and prepare them for the challenges of “the times in which they live.” 

WMS’s mission and core values have been carefully determined to align with the peaceful foundation on which the Montessori pedagogy has been built, and our prepared environments reflect this approach. 

Peacebuilders at work

What does the Montessori vision of peace look like in practice, across the levels? Let’s explore.

Peace education in the Young Children’s Community

In our toddler classrooms, the Young Children’s Community, we lay the foundations of the balance between individual independence and group cohesion. We teach children the fundamentals of how to interact in a group: how to knock on the door and wait one’s turn to enter, how to take turns with classroom materials, and how to respect the needs and wants of others. Mutual respect is modeled by adults and encouraged at every turn. 

Students are also absorbing, at this early age, lessons about difference. Our “Windows and Mirrors” book collection includes picture books that represent children of all different races, religions, genders, and identities. Children see themselves reflected in those books and also are able to see people whose lives are different from theirs. 

Peace education in the Lower School

In our Lower School, children 3-6 years old learn more explicit lessons about peace and justice. These often coalesce around a read-aloud book, or happen in the moment when two children come into conflict over a work or a choice. 

Take, for example, an encounter I witnessed during a Lower School lunchtime. Most children chatted warmly at their tables, but disagreements broke out here and there. One child had crossed her legs and stuck them right into the space in front of another child’s chair. As I came over to help resolve the conflict, she pleaded to me, as though I were a judge, “I need this space to have my pose!” It was her attempt to claim a bit of real estate that was not truly hers to take up, but before I said a word, another child at the table said, “You can’t have both people’s space. That’s not fair. You can have your space as long as you let him have his space. ” 

It was interesting to me that this very young person had so fully absorbed Maria Montessori’s message: our individual independence rests on our willingness to respect the rights of others. It was even more interesting to me that the other child was able to listen, then move her legs back to her own space. In a Montessori classroom, equity and justice are topics that children know how to address on their own. 

Peace education in Lower Elementary

Lower Elementary children continue on this path of learning to balance their needs with the needs of others. But we also begin to introduce assignments that foster understanding, respect, and appreciation for other cultures. These studies introduce ideas of peace and justice on a larger scale. Each year, the Lower Elementary classes study a different continent and soak up the many ways in which cultures are different from one another. Students also learn about the origins of early humans, understanding that all humans descend from the same roots. 

Also starting in Lower School, continuing through Middle School, students use class meetings to resolve problems collaboratively. Students raise questions and problems about life in the community and then lead the conversation to come up with solutions.

Peace education in Upper Elementary

In Upper Elementary, we help children feel empowered to become empathetic leaders who advocate for peace. As more mature children, they have developed greater impulse control and can more effectively manage their strong emotions. They also can think deeply about the fundamental needs of humans across cultures, learning that people in all times and places find creative and appropriate ways to meet their needs. 

A popular project in the Upper Elementary is the Biography project. Students choose a consequential historical figure, dress up as that person, and deliver a detailed biography that shows the ways in which that person contributed to a more just and peaceful world. 

Peace education in Middle School

During the years of early adolescence, students’ brains are wired to care deeply about questions of identity and equity or fairness. They start to understand the wider world outside of their school and their families — and gain the social and academic skills they need to understand the world in a deeper way. By studying history, immigration, religion, world conflicts, and economic systems, they also begin to gain a more sophisticated understanding of identity and how identity relates to power between people and across cultures. 

Our primary goal in the middle school years is to prepare our graduates to leave WMS as global citizens committed to peace, with the sophistication to interact in productive ways with people both similar to them and different from them. They learn these skills by grappling with texts like Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif,” by visiting houses of worship to learn about world religions, and by debating complex topics like colonialism. 

The classroom is such an important and safe space to address the history of human identity and the meaning of social equality. Literature, field studies, and thoughtful dialogue all help students develop the compassion and critical thinking skills so necessary to life in a diverse and fast-changing world. —

The WMS promise to peace

All of these experiences are undergirded by an ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in individual classrooms, at an institutional level, and throughout the WMS community. As a school committed to independence, we need to build a foundation in which people are treated with respect. In our commitment to belonging, we acknowledge that everyone in the WMS community deserves to feel connected and appreciated. And, our final community value, purpose, reminds us that the reason for independence and belonging isn’t just individual comfort — it’s modeling for children the kind of world in which we all want to live. 

Montessori pedagogy and philosophy focus on fostering the development of the whole child, intellectually, social-emotionally, and morally, seeking to weave into the very fabric of their makeup how to be and how to let be in a way that allows space for all types of humans — with the ultimate goal of exemplifying a more peaceful and harmonious existence. From toddlers to teenagers, students are valued, respected, and accepted; in turn, they see the world and its inhabitants as worthy of the same grace.

Want to learn more? Reach out to your child’s teacher or to any administrator at WMS. We also strongly recommend these books for children and adults.

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