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January's Gifts

With the holidays behind us, January ushers in new beginnings and the opportunity for a fresh start. For those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, the new year can also bring us into the deepness of winter: crisp, cold, days followed by long, quiet nights of rest. January can beckon us to join the seasonal rhythms of peace and bring them into our classrooms.

As children re-enter the classroom after a winter break, they often seem relieved to find comfort in the predictable routines they came to know and trust in the first few months of the school year. Teachers remark that the children are more drawn to the rigors of academic work, enjoying longer and more complicated lessons. Through concentrated work of their own choice, children grow in inner discipline and peace. In her book, The Absorbent Mind, Montessori called this process of normalization the “the most important single result of our whole work.” This engagement with meaningful activities provides a sense of inner peace that sets the stage for developing a positive sense of self and connection to the environment and classroom community. Montessori held that this place of happy work lends itself to building what we now call executive function skills such as self-control which supports positive social skills, a key foundation for lifelong happiness and success.

Classroom Activities

Teachers may find themselves sprucing up the Peace Shelf this month and pulling out age-appropriate books about leaders of peace such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi. Many schools connect Martin Luther King’s famous, I Have a Dream speech into projects that allow child-centered goal setting in preparation for the January holiday.

For example, I have a dream that:

Children fill in the blank (which can be on paper cut in the shape of clouds and hung in a large display or collected into mobiles of hanging cloud shapes) with their dreams such as, we treat each other fairly, we give our pets lots of love, we make peace together, etc. Another option is to cut large snowflakes with your children and write your dreams right onto the snowflakes or on slips of paper that are pasted into the center of each snowflake. These seemingly small things all add up and help create and protect a classroom culture that is centered around the shared values of tolerance, compassion and respect.

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