Primary Grades are Ready to Talk Peace

Picture books can help 5-year-olds explore social justice topics and nonviolence. The resulting discussion is the start of a peace curriculum.

In my language arts classes, I constructed my own simple peace curriculum for ages 5-7 out of picture books from the library. I expand on themes we read about with discussion and role-play. Sometimes the results seem immediate and lasting; other times, I realize that further work is necessary.

Nicholas Oldland’s Big Bear Hugis a great example of using nonviolence to oppose violence. It is the story of a loveable bear that hugs everything in the forest—save for a man about to chop down the oldest, most beautiful tree. The bear’s first impulse was violence out of anger. He soon realized that eating the man was against his nature, so he hugged him instead—which, of course, sent the man running for the hills.

My children easily related to the impulse to resort to violence after experiencing a wrongdoing. Hitting or biting a friend for an insult, a stolen toy, or a physical strike is still common at this age. My students liked the idea of hugging instead of hitting, but we did have to discuss alternatives since not all friends like being hugged—and not all schools will even allow it. Kind words, polite requests, and enlisting the help of an adult were some of the solutions we brainstormed together.

Other lessons did not stick so well. We discussed what “never judge a book by its cover” means, and how we can apply that to our lives. I covered two beloved books, Goodnight Moon and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, with construction paper and asked if the kids thought they would be interesting books. Most said they did not know; a couple gave a flat, “No,” as an answer. They laughed when I unwrapped them.

We followed with two books, The Ugly Duckling and one of my favorites, The Sissy Duckling. It seemed that the kids got it. Then, I asked them to tell me about some of their favorite characters who were really wonderful people and great friends even if they did not look like they would be. I expected answers to include beast from Beauty and the Beast, but Samantha took us slightly off topic and asked me why Shrek did not want to remain human in Shrek 2. “He looked better that way,” she insisted.

Elsa jumped in and asked Samantha if she would rather have fun and be herself or be someone she’s not. “You don’t like to wear dresses,” Elsa started. “Would you wear a dress all the time because you look better?” A reluctant Samantha admitted that she would not. We have more ground to cover with this topic, but the conversation was started.

Elsa was ready for my question. She was able to connect it to our daily lives. I love where these discussions are going and plan on finding even more books to use for this purpose.

Schmidt is a writer and editor based in Missouri.

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