Cultivating Peace in the Classroom
"If we are to teach real peace in this world... we shall have to begin with the children."
Lessons of Grace and Courtesy
Peace education is a fundamental component of the Montessori classroom. Adults model peaceful and respectful behavior, and because Montessori classrooms are composed of mixed age groups, older students serve as role models for younger children. At a young age, children in a Montessori classroom begin to learn how to settle differences and appropriately handle strong emotions.
Visitors often marvel at how Montessori classrooms seem to have a "hum" to them, and the children seem joyful, relaxed, and happy. They are able to choose an activity and work at it without interruption. They interact with their peers and move about the room freely. The teacher's main goals are to make sure children are engaged, to connect children with the prepared environment, and to protect their work once they are immersed in concentration. One can sense a spirit of purpose, satisfaction, and joy permeating the room. But this does not happen magically! It is the teacher who helps to protect children's work by showing other children in the classroom how to watch, how to walk around a work rug, or how to interrupt politely. With ongoing Grace and Courtesy lessons, the Montessori environment gives children tools for resolving conflicts peacefully and ways to cultivate a peaceful and productive environment for learning.
Most classrooms have a peace corner, peace table, or a peace shelf, at which two students can go to resolve a conflict or a single child can go to calm down and feel peaceful. One strategy for conflict resolution is the use of a Peace Rose. Children learn to take turns holding the Peace Rose while speaking about how they feel. They stay at the peace table until they have heard each other and resolved their conflict. With very young children, adults model and coach the children with words they can use. Older students can do this independently. At the elementary level, when the imagination takes off, students enjoy role playing and solving problems in small groups. Upper elementary students often participate in student-led community meetings, in which conflicts are discussed, brainstormed, and resolved as a group.
Grace & Courtesy
Going hand-in-hand with peace education is the Montessori Grace and Courtesy curriculum. Students practice simple lessons, such as how to greet others, say “please” and “thank you,” push in chairs, and walk around the work mats of their classmates. At the core of these lessons is respect for others, self, and the environment. Montessori students engage in community service at every level – within the classroom for youngest students and outside the classroom and the school for older students.
Grace and courtesy lessons empower children to be responsible, self-aware, and independent.
Through the structure of Grace and Courtesy, children are able to practice respectful communication, and they are given tools to respond to others.
Grace and Courtesy lessons are an ongoing, collaborative aspect of the Montessori curriculum that invite the children and teachers to work together to forge a culture of responsibility, tolerance, and harmony. Every classroom is unique, and the great beauty of a Montessori classroom is that its educational construct and style allows each classroom's own definition of peace to develop and flourish.
A Sampling of Grace & Courtesy Lessons:
How to walk around a rug
How to ask for a hug
How to blow your nose
How to wash your hands
How to greet a visitor
How/when to say "excuse me"
How to ask for help from a teacher/friend
What to say if someone says "you're not my friend"
How to walk with scarcely making a sound
How to tell someone you want to be alone
How to watch someone do work
How to clean up your snack
What to do if you're really angry
How to agree to disagree
The Value of the "Invisible Curriculum"
Angeline Lillard, in her book Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, wrote that the lessons of Grace and Courtesy "are on a par with lessons in math, music, and language." (2007, 198-99) There is no physical material on the shelf to remind us of the importance of Grace and Courtesy; these activities cannot be seen, but they mustn't be forgotten. Ginni Sackett (AMI trainer, Montessori Institute Northwest) has said that Grace and Courtesy is a part of Montessori's "invisible curriculum." Other "invisible" activities which can be considered a part of this curriculum are Spoken Language, Silence, and Walking on the Line. This "invisible curriculum" is one of the most significant components of the Montessori environment.
Below are some additional resources related to Peace Education and Montessori.
The Peace Rose by Alicia Jewell
Our Peaceful Classroom by Aline Wolf
What is Peace? by Louise Kelley