Creating a Peaceful Environment: The First Weeks
In a Montessori classroom we need to establish peaceful norms within the first few weeks of school. How do we promote peace in a classroom? We have a number of tools at our disposal
One of the most obvious of our tools is the Peace Table, a designated spot where children can go to resolve a conflict with another student. We also encourage them to go there to calm themselves when they are feeling particularly emotional or are lacking self-control.
We offer children self-control exercises. On our shelves we have cards showing yoga and breathing exercises.
At the beginning of each year we re-present Grace and Courtesy lessons—please and thank you, taking turns, waiting until a conversation is ended before speaking, and so on—allowing us to model peace and kindness, as well as show the children how to care for lessons. Since one third of the class has been exposed to these lessons for two years, and another third has experienced them for a year, the new students have plenty of role models for Grace and Courtesy!
Montessori children learn quickly that they assume responsibility for their environment. We demonstrate how to take a lesson off the shelf and how to carefully put it back. We also promote individual responsibilities in the form of class jobs. These tasks help them on several levels. First, they perform as a team, each student taking responsibility for a portion of the class. This “sweat equity” gives them a sense of connectedness to the whole, and they become much less likely to disturb the environment. Second, the act of performing the task requires focus and self-discipline, which translates directly into self-control and thus peaceful behavior.
Often times, we will ask one of the older students to demonstrate to the younger ones. Maria Montessori herself observed that when older children modeled behaviors, the younger ones began to imitate those behaviors. Older students naturally take on the role of leader in the classroom. We explain the difference between being a leader by modeling desired behavior (acceptable) and trying to control others by force (unacceptable). This process contributes to the general peacefulness of the classroom by passing on norms from year to year, and establishing bonds of trust between older and younger classmates.
Our class often has group discussions on topics lending themselves to promoting peace. We examine the relationship between actions and consequences, both the positive and negative varieties. We develop classroom behavioral norms. At the Primary level these are usually deontological—the teacher outlines the rules during the first several weeks of school: in the classroom walk, use your “inside” voice, etc. In the Lower Elementary classroom the class (now accustomed to enjoying peaceful behaviors), creates the rules in a classroom discussion with as little adult interference as possible. The Upper Elementary class adopted a principle (respect) and measures actions according to this mutually accepted value—applying concrete actions to an abstraction.
We also ensure the environment is beautiful, clean and clutter free. Clutter and uncleanliness can overstimulate and cause chaos. Before children can truly absorb what is being presented to them, they must be given the opportunity to find inner peace and self-control.
"Nurture the spirit"