by Deby Ziesmer
Vice President, Early Childhood Education
YWCA of Minneapolis
Mahatma Gandhi said that, if we are to have real peace in the world, we need to begin with the children. Sowing the seeds for peace and justice in classrooms allows us to nurture a new generation of leaders and ordinary citizens who have a vision of a peaceful and just world, and who have both the will and the skill to make this vision a reality.
One of the key goals of the YWCA is to create a caring community of learners where diversity is celebrated, and children of all races, ethnic groups, socioeconomic classes, religions, geographic regions, sexual orientations and family structures feel both welcomed and affirmed in the classroom. It is important to teach our children to move beyond tolerance and acceptance, and to become proactive in stopping bias-related comments and other forms of discrimination.
Our teachers stress the importance of nurturing both a confident self and a welcoming group identity. When children feel cherished and affirmed by others, especially the adults in their lives, they feel less of a need to prove their worth by putting others down. As children learn about cultures different from their own, we can help them understand that one way is not the only way. In doing so, it helps us develop classroom communities where affirmation and acceptance are the pattern, and rejection and exclusion have no place. We then begin to create an atmosphere that builds the self-esteem of all students, stopping the bullying whenever it occurs, and providing models of caring, sharing and helping.
There are several strategies we use to achieve these goals:
We foster cooperation over competition. Classrooms that promote cooperation over competition help plant the seed that the greater good comes when we work together, rather than against each other.
We teach non-violent conflict resolution skills. These skills must be taught and practiced at every developmental level. We need to encourage our students to apply these skills to their everyday lives and, as role models; we need to show them how it is done in a practical and useful manner. Even young children can learn and implement conflict resolution steps such as: identify the problem, brainstorm possible solutions, agree on a solution to try, and then implement it and evaluate its outcome.
We temper the influence of media. Our children are surrounded by media that is often violent and can reflect values and offer role models that encourage the use of violent methods to solve problems. Children are also encouraged to buy a variety of action figures or to wear the clothing that glorify these characters so they can re-enact the violent images they see in films, video games and on TV. To help our children with the pervasive influence of the media, we must advocate for quality programming that promotes the values of a peaceful and just society and also help children to develop critical viewing skills.
We provide positive, pro-social models. Every community has positive models of caring, sharing and helping behavior. Children need everyday examples of those who do the good work of keeping our communities growing strong. That may mean those who work in the local soup kitchen, build houses for Habitat for Humanity, demonstrate for peace, or collect signatures on a petition to save wildlife. It may mean the garbage and recycling workers, the bus drivers or the park workers who keep our communities intact and connected. Teachers can invite these people into the classroom to tell their stories and encourage the involvement of children and families in their community.
We teach advocacy. By allowing children to participate in decision-making, from the classroom level to the global level, we strive to bring about the needed changes for a peaceful and just world. For example, allowing children to help make the classroom rules is a valuable learning process, while also helping to create a smoothly functioning classroom where children are more likely to follow the rules.
With children, we can begin to create a more peaceful world. We can give those same children the necessary confidence so that they become more tolerant and accepting of diversity. This greatly increases the chance that the next generation will be filled with young leaders who see the differences among us as a strength and a reason to celebrate, rather than as a means to drive us apart.
The YWCA of Minneapolis offers NAEYC-accredited child care services for infants through school-age children at three locations. For more information, fill out our online interest form.
Deby Ziesmer is the Vice President of Early Childhood Education. During her years at the YWCA, Deby has continually improved the quality of the centers and involved the program in new initiatives, including all day kindergarten, AmeriCorps Reading Corps and Work Sampling. Her leadership enabled all of the YWCA’s children centers to achieve National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accreditation, the premier mark of quality.
This post is part of the YWCA Week Without Violence™ blog carnival on issues of violence in all forms. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story on your blog or website, and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #ywcaWWV.