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A new spin on peace

Montessori preschool observes International Peace Day

By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– From Bangkok to Barbados, from Long Valley, New Jersey to North Liberty, Iowa, four million pinwheels were collectively spinning a solitary message on Sept. 21.
The date was the International Day of Peace, and the pinwheels were part of an art installation project initiated by Florida art teachers Ann Ayers and Ellen McMillan. The first Pinwheels for Peace were planted in 2005; a symbol of childhood simplicity and joy, pinwheels were a way for students to express the value of peace in their lives. From the first installation of 500,000 pinwheels nine years ago, the project has been joined by schools, daycare centers and communities around the globe, this year numbering an estimated 4.5 million pinwheels displayed in more than 3,500 locations worldwide.
The count includes 90 colorful pinwheels spinning on the front lawn of Montessori Children’s Garden, a private school for three- to five-year-olds in North Liberty.
“To explain peace to this age group, we focus on talking about what makes them feel peaceful, such as their family, their friends, their homes, their pets and their gardens,” said Montessori Children’s Garden co-owner Jane Jones. “We explain about body awareness, how to relax our muscles, and how our senses can affect how we feel.”
To practice peaceful exchanges and learn how to deal with negative feelings, children at Montessori Children’s Garden are taught how to engage in deep breathing, relaxation, and talking it out when a conflict arises, Jones added.
“All of our classrooms have a ‘peace rose’, which is similar to the Native American talking stick; whoever is holding the rose gets to speak, and they take turns until they are ready to ‘declare peace.’”
The pinwheel project was not political or affiliated with a particular religious belief. Rather, it originated as a way to counteract the violence that has become commonplace in society through the constant bombardment of television news and images, music, print articles, photographs and ever-present videogames each of us– including children– receive every day.
Peace can take on a different meaning for each of us, the organizers believe, but peace comes down to a simple definition: a state of calm and serenity, free from anxiety, violence, conflict or disagreement.
To that end, said Jones, the kids at Montessori Children’s Garden are helped to understand how to gain peace– and peace of mind– on a regular basis, not just one designated day of the year.
“We practice silence in the classroom with a candle to relax our bodies and our thoughts,” Jones said. “Maria Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times, and the peace curriculum remains an important part of our program.
“We’re all unique, but we all have the right to peace,” she added.