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Nurturing peacemakers in preschool classrooms

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YOUNG children can be taught the basics of peacemaking: A group of preschool children holds hands in a ``friendship circle,'' and then they each tell what they like about the person to their right.

A nursery-school teacher, weary of the G.I. Joe/He-Man/Star Wars play her children imitate, decides to read them the ``Wizard of Oz.'' She stocks the dress-up corner with Oz-type clothes, puts Oz characters in the puppet theater, and the play flows in a more imaginative direction for the rest of the year.

An elementary schoolteacher in a culturally diverse school gets the students in her class to chart the color differences among them, turning it into a math exercise in seriation.

These examples and more, mentioned at the recent national conference of the 60-year-old National Association for the Education of Young Children in Washington, show some of the ways teachers demonstrate the value and skill of peacemaking.

Sparked by research in the early 1980s on youth's reaction to nuclear issues, the idea of teaching peacemaking has now filtered down to the youngest levels. But where older grades tend to focus their peace curriculum on the nuclear issues, the younger children are taught peacemaking on a more immediate level.

For one thing, ``there aren't a lot of little kids who are afraid of a nuclear threat,'' says Nancy Carlson-Paige, an early-childhood specialist at Lesley College, Cambridge, Mass. With partner Diane Levin at Wheelock College, Boston, she researched and developed a peace curriculum for preschoolers. ``A three-year-old may use the words `nuclear radiation' in his play, but [the child] doesn't mean the same thing than an adult would mean by the term,'' she said in a telephone interview.

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