I had planned to write this blog on something completely different, but I have instead decided to share a story of a recent experience in my classroom, Toddler I.
Peace Day is coming up at our school. In preparation, I have been discussing what “peace” means, introduced a Peace Tree to our class (every time a kind or peaceful act is done, a heart is hung on a branch), shared the stories of famous peace advocates, and tried to place extra focus on promoting peaceful interactions between friends.
For toddlers, the subject of peace must be discussed very concretely and not as an abstract feeling or idea. I describe peace to them fairly broadly- it could be a song, making art, helping a friend, saying kind words, cleaning up a mess, waiting patiently, or being still. I invite my friends to offer their own ideas of peace and try to guide them to their own understanding.
I try to incorporate the word “peace” into daily situations: “I feel so peaceful because my body is calm,” “Is it peaceful to hit or push?”, “Remember that we can show peace with our words and our actions.”
Naptime has proven to be a perfect opportunity to incorporate this discussion of peace. I can say, “You can show peace by being quiet so your friends can sleep,” or “Resting our bodies can give us peace.”
It was during naptime a few days ago that I found myself writing a card for my teaching assistant, Amanda. Her father passed away three years ago and it was the anniversary of his passing. She was on her lunch break and I was in the classroom with the sleeping children so it was the perfect, peaceful opportunity for me to write to her.
Moments later, I heard rustling and I knew that some friends were awake. I tried to tuck them in again so I could get back to my card, but no one was going back to sleep. They saw that I was busy with the card.
“What are you doing?” they kept whispering, to which I was answering shortly, “Shh! Teacher work.” But they kept asking. I felt myself getting frustrated and told my friends, “You are disrupting our rest time. Is that showing peace? You can be peaceful now.”
But I saw that my friends were not playing or intentionally disturbing the quiet- they just wanted a real answer from me. So I told them I was writing a card to Ms. Amanda. They asked why and I wasn’t sure how to tell them- it seemed uncomfortable to talk about death when we had been focusing so much on peace. But finally I just told them the truth. “Amanda’s dad died. She is sad. I want to make her feel better.” I think that I was hoping they would be satisfied with my explanation and quiet down, maybe even fall back asleep eventually.
I was busy hushing my friends when one of them said, “I want to give her peace.” Other friends chimed in as well. I could feel myself growing frustrated as I heard more friends waking up. No! I thought, why is this the time they want to show peace?! Then I saw a friend off their nap mat–they had gotten a piece of paper and crayon. I was about to redirect them when they said, “For Amanda. It’s a butterfly like her dad.”
By now, the whole room was awake. Loud whispers, rustling, and restless noises filled the room. They all wanted to make pictures for Amanda, to “give her peace.” I just stood in silence for a second, annoyed that no one was sleeping, and in awe of these incredible humans.
There I was, preaching peace left and right, and yet trying to stifle it out when it entered into my classroom in the most authentic and surprising way. I thought that my friends were disrupting the peace, but it was their desire for peace which disrupted my complacency.
For the rest of our naptime, we drew pictures for Ms. Amanda. Was it the most convenient time for it? Maybe not. But sometimes sharing peace, joy, love is inconvenient. That is why it can be so hard to find.
I learn lessons from the children in my class daily, but this one will stick with me for a long time. Making those pictures for Amanda meant a lot to my friends–they were able to act out peace in a tangible way that made sense to them.
Ms. Amanda loved the pictures we made for her, and I think her dad would have loved them too.
Happy Peace Day!