Children Need Nature: Teaching Peace

Children Need NatureBy Rebecca Dhondt, Sassafras Classroom Lead Teacher

Children Need Nature is a monthly blog column from our Nature Preschool program. Read more posts here.

This time of year tends to be full of excitement and energy.  With so much baking, decorating, and visiting going on there are many stories that Nature Preschoolers are eager to share.  Children naturally begin to compare notes, trying to understand what is happening in their own homes and wondering about the ways others might celebrate teachers in the Sassafras room heard exclamations such as: “I have a Christmas tree too!”, “What is an Elf on the Shelf?” and “How do you play dreidel?”

An early way to help introduce children to cultural inclusion is to build on this natural interest in holidays.  This year the Sassafras class has spent time exploring Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, and Kwanzaa.  We have welcomed visitors, read books, played games, sung songs, cooked traditional treats, and had many lively discussions.    The children love learning new things, finding similarities and differences.  After learning about the seven concepts of Kwanzaa one of the preschoolers said: “We don’t celebrate Kwanzaa, but we still care about all those things!”

No matter what the tradition, we saw that everyone wished for peace.  Peace is not a new concept to the Sassafras class.  On the very first day of school, they saw a  special corner of the room with a soft chair, a bubbling fountain, a green plant, and books about peace. We call this the peace corner a quiet area that welcomes reflection. Often, when a child is upset, but not yet ready to talk about their feelings, they say: “I need to go to the peace corner”.    A few minutes to slow down helps them be ready to listen and reconnect.

Teaching peace is essential in creating a kind and safe classroom community.   Classroom teachers helped the children to know when to use the peace corner and introduced other mindfulness practices such as yoga and deep breathing. Regardless of our age, we all have times of stress and frustration.  Teaching small ways to increase peace gives us tools for calming ourselves.  Mindfulness builds on the natural ability of children to embrace the present moment, and helps them learn to listen and see the perspectives of others.  As these skills grow, they become happier and more confident in their ability to manage the ups and downs of their lives.   Now that we are three months into the year, teachers overhear peers coaching peers with phrases such as:  “Maybe you need to go to the peace corner” or “Take a deep breath!”

When we were reading our holiday stories, the children heard the familiar word ‘peace’ in a new context.  They were surprised and began to ask hard questions such as: “Why isn’t peace already everywhere?” and “Can’t everyone just go to the peace corner?” The Sassafras wanted to know how they could help bring more peace to others.  We talked about different ideas, focusing on accepting others and simple acts of kindness and generosity that we can do towards our loved ones and the world around us.   Each day before lunch we began to sing a new song, reinforcing the idea that each of us has the power to help spread peace.

Let there be peace on Earth

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be.
We’ll take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me

One of the most amazing powers of the natural world is its ability to help human beings find peace and balance. As adults, we forget about the healing power of a long walk, or of making a discovery.  Young children have not forgotten this, and no teacher needs to tell them how to find peace when they venture outside.  The Sassafras create their own outdoor ‘peace corners’ whenever they need them. Watching the children do this inspires me, reminds me to slow down and restore myself, to adapt the patience of nature, to try to fill myself with peace enough to share with others.

PlayscapeChallengers_RD_12-19-16 006Recently, our peace corner got an upgrade, with a collaborative natural wreath that honors the role that nature plays nurturing our soul.  Also, we created peace art, with each of the children contributing their take on what peace means to them.   This improved calm space looks amazing, as ready as nature always is to welcome anyone who may need a break.

So, what is peace?  Here is what the Sassafras shared for our new peace board:

Bunny breathing
My family
Playing with friends
Mommy and Daddy
Being alone
Happy smiles
My teddy
Playing with my toys
Super dragon
Happy times with my sister
Helping my friends

It is great to know there are so many different ways we can find peace.

My hope is that you have a most peaceful holiday season, and a happy new year!

Canoe_RD_5.31.16 135About Rebecca Dhondt
Rebecca, now entering her fourth year with the Schuylkill Center Nature Preschool, is lead teacher of the Sassafras class where she laughs and learns alongside her preschoolers each day.