A Case for Peace Education in Elementary Schools

By Julie Lillie & Dr. Carey Seeley Dzierzak 

As we navigate the complexities of today’s world, children are experiencing increased rates of anxiety, depression, trauma and academic challenges. Schools are asked to provide ‘wrap around’ services, such as counseling, therapy, and physical health services that are beyond their financial means. Educators also have complex needs, many are in survival mode and are facing high rates of burnout. 

How can we create culturally affirming systems that support the students, families and teachers of today and into the future?

Peace education is not a new concept, it’s been around for decades, yet we need just and peaceful strategies now more than ever. World Citizen Peace  offers ‘Five Peace Actions’, 

  • SEEK peace within yourself and others
  • REACH OUT in service
  • PROTECT the environment
  • RESPECT diversity
  • BE a responsible citizen of the world

These provide the basis for an inspiring and empowering framework for peace and justice centered education. Here are ideas for taking peace action with elementary learners.

Seek Peace Within Yourself

Seeking peace within yourself is crucial as it is to the foundation for external peace in the world. Provide learners a variety of strategies to access peace when they are feeling anxious, dysregulated, sad, worn-out or upset. 

 In Action:

  • Practicing breathing strategies and meditation 
  • Pause: counting or tapping gently using their fingers
  • Mindful walking and movements (stretching, yoga)
  • Mindful coloring, artwork and/or journaling
  • Listening to calming music and/or reading quietly
  • Spending time in a special space, a class peace pad or calming corner 
  • Access a comprehensive lesson plan, digital slides and anchor chart for I Am Peace: PBNA Strategy (Emotion Identification & Regulation) by becoming a FREE ‘Seed Community’ member. 

Seek Peace Within Others  

This is an excellent way to frame building community and expectations for classroom guidelines and agreements at the beginning of the school year or as a classroom “reset.”  Guide students to explore and embrace curiosity and non-judgement, especially when there are differing beliefs, ideas, opinions and perspectives. 

In Action: Peace Circles

Conflict is inevitable, but responses of aggression and violence can be prevented. Actively including children in the development and learning of conflict resolution transforms them into skilled peacemakers. Get anytime access to a free comprehensive lesson plan, digital slides and anchor charts for implementing powerful Peace Circles (Communication & Conflict Resolution) in our ‘Seed Community’. 

Reach Out In Service

At the classroom and school level, empower students and help them find their passion. By encouraging students to think about how they can help in their classroom, school and neighborhood; there are a lot of possibilities for students to engage in reaching out in service.

In Action: Get students  involved; organizing a school “Green Team,” volunteering in the community or becoming a “Peacemaker” and supporting the resolution of conflict at recess. Ask students how they are interested in helping others in their classroom, school, home and community.

Protect Our Environment

Protecting our environment means that human life is in balance and living in harmony with nature and its resources, which in return provides for sustainable life on this planet. 

In Action: Anchoring Within Your Own Community

It’s important for learners to describe the habitat(s) near their community and explain why it is important. They can develop an appreciation for the interconnectedness and importance of healthy environments. 

Respect Diversity

Respecting diversity and culturally relevant or responsive practices go hand in hand. These practices include recognizing and incorporating strengths and assets, as well as making sure content is relevant. Though we are all connected with each other, people also have differing identities, cultures, backgrounds, beliefs, histories and philosophies. 

In Action: Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors

Provide for students to learn from cultures and perspectives that are “windows, mirrors and sliding glass doors”. Professor Rudine Sims Bishop uses this analogy to discuss the importance of diversity in books and the authors who write them. 

  • Students need to see themselves (mirrors) in their learning.
  • Offer books and media as windows to other people, perspectives and cultures
  • Sliding glass doors means that this goes both ways.

Be a Responsible Citizen of the World

It’s important for this peace action to stand on its own and to guide learners in taking in account a global viewpoint. Peace education impacts the world with small actions, and is an elegant way to open students’ eyes to a greater world-view. Empower students to see themselves as changemakers who truly have a voice and opportunity to make a positive change. 

In Action: Universal Human Rights

Celebrating and centering people’s basic needs and universal human rights is foundational to this peace action. A few practices at varying developmental levels:

  • Emerging: co-create a chart that demonstrates understanding of the difference between needs, wants and rights through concrete examples.
  • Intermediate: co-create a visual representation of universal rights that form the basis for justice, freedom and peace in our world.
  • Advanced: assign individuals or small groups to create a presentation on one human right; hold a human rights ‘gallery walk’ or presentation day for sharing and reflecting on the learning collectively.

Start small! Be consistent!  What are the greatest needs in your classroom, school, community?  We also invite you to access more resources, offerings and get access to our free newsletter at www.thepeacepad.org

Note: This article is part 1 of 7 on a series about peace education in elementary schools. 

Author Bios

  • Julie Lillie, M.S., is an empowering peace-centered educator and consultant with over fifteen years of experience in diverse preK-12 settings, including as a teacher, instructional leader, literacy specialist, equity coach and curriculum developer. 
  • Dr. Carey Seeley Dzierzak, Ed.D., is a dedicated social-justice centered educator involved in education for over twenty-five years working in diverse settings as a teacher, coach, curriculum director, assistant principal and principal.
The authors: Julie Lillie & Dr. Carey Seeley Dzierzak 
Join the Campaign & help us #SpreadPeaceEd!
Please send me emails:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top