Teaching Peace, Understanding War (page 4)
While it is necessary to teach children to celebrate diversity and learn tolerance, it is not enough. Even though they are very young, children in preschool-primary classrooms must begin the work of learning how to build a culture of peace. This work, like all their learning, begins with themselves and their here-and-now experiences.
In the typical preschool-primary classroom, opportunities to teach peace abound because fighting and conflict are a way of life for young children. Some researchers estimate that young children, with their egocentric thought, engage in a fight every few minutes (Levin, 2003).
Young children are highly affected by violence and wars. Many children have been personally involved in wars because a parent, a relative, or a neighbor is serving or has served in the military or because a relative or a family friend is experiencing war. Even for children who are not personally involved in war, far too often it is a very real part of their lives. Reserchers suggest that children experience a variety of adverse effects in reaction to wars. Both boys and girls appear to exhibit more behavioral problems and higher levels of anxiety when a war is taking place, with girls in particular exhibiting higher levels of anxiety and more behavior problems (Ronen, Rahay, & Rosenbaum, 2003)
It is well known that children are exposed to violence daily through the media. Even parents who monitor their children’s television viewing find they cannot shield their young children from viewing violence in commercials for movies, upcoming TV shows, Saturday morning cartoons, computer games, or news coverage. Many researchers believe that the violence and fighting children witness through the media are observed and modeled (Teaching Tolerance Project, 2003). Violence marketed to children through the dolls and other toys that replicate the superheros children view on TV or in movies further channels children into imitating violence they have seen on the screen (Carlsson-Paige & Levin, 1998).
Couple the amount of violence children witness with their immature thought and their need to feel powerful or in control of their lives, and children’s violent play is explained (Teaching Tolerance Project, 2003). By pretending to be a Power Ranger, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, or whatever warlike action figure is popular at the time, children feel and experience the power they do not otherwise have (Caulfield, 2002). Boys appear to exhibit more acts of empowerment when playing with war toys, while girls exhibit more acts of connectedness (Caulfield, 2002). Some observers believe war play is a natural and safe way for children to express normal aggression and, as such, is necessary. Others see war play as a way for children to handle fear of war or make sense of wars they observe in the media.
Just as children have always played war, teachers and parents have always struggled with how to respond to war play. Should teachers permit or ban war play? Should they redirect it—and how?
Early childhood educators also question whether or not to ban war toys from the classroom. Following are some suggestions (Levin, 2003):
- Banning war toys or or play rarely works. Rather than banning violent play, try to help children work things out.
- Avoid films, books, and games that glorify violence. Provide toys and books that support peace.
- Ensure safety for all children.
- Model positive, nonviolent behavior.
- Promote creative and imaginative play rather than imitative play. Observe play, and use the information you gain to help children move to more creative play. In Reggio-Emilia, Italy, teachers have used children’s interest in monster play to teach myths.
- Address children’s needs while trying to reduce violent play.
If you think children are playing war as a means of handling their own fears then you might try these approaches:
- Consider and talk about fears. Respect the fact that children are fearful, and give them strategies for coping, but do not embellish their fears.
- Give children accurate and appropriate information. Nothing is as bad as not knowing the truth. Know what and how much truth will help children at this time. Tell children in words they can understand.
- See that children develop mastery over themselves and their world. Put them in control as much as possible.
- Emphasize cooperative play and positive, nonviolent behaviors.
Obviously, any war play that intrudes on the rights and safety of others must be stopped. Even when war play is not out of hand, it can be redirected. Rather than focusing on the game or the war toy, teachers might concentrate on children’s feelings. An openness to their own feelings, and an acceptance of feelings, might take away the child’s urgency for making use of war games.
You can’t even think about teaching children about war, peace, or violence without first understanding children’s thinking (Carlsson-Paige & Levin, 1998). The following strategies can help uncover children’s ideas about war and peace:
- Try to take the children’s point of view when you listen to them talk about war.
- Consider a child’s general cognitive development and understanding.
- Think about how children will transform what they hear about war in their own unique ways.
Because of their immature sense of social morality, young children seem to accept or favor war and violence more than older children do. Girls seem less likely to become interested in war, warlike games, or aggression than boys are; boys, during interviews, referred to war more frequently. Six-year-olds demonstrate a greater hostility to others than do children of other ages, and children in the third and fourth grades rate wars as more glamorous than do children of other ages. Children’s concepts of peace are somewhat less tangible than their concepts of war are. They are usually absent; when present, they are associated with interpersonal peace and absence of personal conflict.
© ______ 2005, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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