Today is the International Day of Peace, a United Nations initiate that invites nations and individuals to “honour a cessation of hostilities during the Day.” A one day reprieve from from conflict and strife around the world. A day to imagine: “If we can do it for one day…” It’s a wonderfully noble idea, and one that’s worth recognizing and talking about in our own lives.
Maria Montessori believed that early childhood was a key to rest of a child’s life. All kinds of pedagogical research has proven her right, and over the last century there has been a global shift to focus educational and health programming on very young children.
Dr. Montessori also believed that the significance of these early days was so great that it could hold the key to world peace. If the experience of young children was holistic, respectful, intentional and connected, they might just grow up to have a different way of thinking and seeing the world.
Here at home, I’ve been thinking about the connection between peace — in all senses of the word, from armed conflict to inner stillness — and our earthly environment. It turns out that a lot of the world’s conflicts are rooted in environmental issues: as ecologically abundant, healthy, resource and water-rich parts of the earth become more rare, the declarations of “mine” grow louder.
And as our sensitivity to “nature deficit disorder” grows, we’re learning that how much time a child spends in nature has correlations with outcomes not just today, but throughout their lives. And the lives of everyone around them. As Richard Louv writes, experiences in nature can build empathy, reduce bullying, build social and family bonding, improve mental health and our ability to face challenges.
Here’s our small-scale environmental experiment with peace: connecting with others through nature.
Last month we participated in a Nature Pal Exchange (or since, it’s kind of an Instagram thing, #naturepalexchange) — which pairs up families interested in sending each other natural treasures. For us it was a crossborder, cross-cultural nature exchange. Finding treasures of the outdoors here, and sending them there. We partnered up with a lovely family of four kids in Minnesota, who sent us a lovely package of pine cones and needles, bark, walnuts and piece de resistance: a creepy cool cicada exoskeleton. What a boon for our nature shelf! We sent things found along the way on our summer vacation, and Jasper painted in pictures I’d sketched of the critters we’d seen. There was a sense of something radical, something that questioned borders and customs and postal systems and opened up possibility for something a little bit organic happening in those unfriendly environments, as we marked the customs sheet with the words “pebbles and paintings” and received one from the other side of the border marked “acorns and leaves”.
The other experiment we’ve been trying out is more local. It’s simply a group of kids and moms, meeting once a week, outdoors.
A few weeks ago, for the first time, we made a concerted to avoid a playground. The morning was magical: toddlers in the waves, kids digging deep and discovering beautiful stones on a pebbly beach, babies nursing in golden sunshine. There was quiet, there was interaction, there was peace. There were, I kid you not, eight Saint Bernard puppies, a massive moving herd of fluffballs, coming our way down the beach, blessing our decision to forgo the sand box and the plastic slides.
Last week, we visited a conservation area near my childhood home, where the kids explored forest paths and foraged wild apples and grapes and poked at a babbling stream with sticks. After a stressful early morning spent on the phone with the bank and the airline, trying to book a flight, it was just the sort of forest bath I needed.
So far our little outdoor play experiment has yielded greater interaction between the two generations, while requiring fewer interventions related to sharing and pushing and the like. Our mornings are a bit more peaceful, you could say.
We’re a privileged bunch, and we live in a safe and beautiful place, and we are blessed and we aim to be grateful. We aren’t solving any of the world’s current big problems. But I’d like to think that as we add more nature to our lives, bit by bit, that we might just be changing the future.
If you’re interested in thinking more about education, Montessori and peace, join the International Day of Peace festivities on the excellent Montessori 101 Facebook group.