Last year I took a wonderful Peace Education course led by a fabulous educator and advocate for nonviolence. At the end of the semester she gave each of the class participants a gift of a peace education resource that can be used with elementary and middle-school aged children. Published by Peace Education International, the Gopher Peace workbook series provide students with a wealth of wonderful, interactive games and activities all aimed at promoting peaceful thinking and behavior. The workbooks include self-esteem building activities, word and math problems that once solved reveal important messages about how to treat others, exercises that reveal our own prejudices, games that help us identify violent behavior, crossword puzzles that help us identify “feeling” words, and picture games that help us become familiar with body language messages. In addition to activity books for students, Gopher Peace and the Peace Rangers also has a resource book for teachers which includes lesson plans that help students promote peace within their classroom. The lesson plans help teachers learn how to create a safe classroom container, and then provide a wide variety of activity ideas. Lessons include learning about how families show and receive love, what qualities make someone a friend, how to identify bullying behaviors, how to identify feeling words and the ways that our bodies communicate information, and how to communicate anger without using violence. As the lesson plans progress, they venture into more complex understandings of peace and conflict resolution tools such as the classroom “Peace Table” where children bring themselves when a conflict arises between peers. The teacher and students become familiar with and tolerant of other cultures, explore personal meanings of peace and war, and study influential peacemakers such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Carl Sagan. Gopher Peace also has a variety of story books that depict individuals confronting bullies and negative behavior, and learning how to deal with such situations.
The Gopher Peace resources would be most effectively used in elementary and middle-school classrooms, but could also be very valuable in non-formal educational settings such as after school programs. The fact that the Gopher Peace resources are so fun and interactive, making learning like a game, really creates the opportunity for a wide array of applications.
All of the Gopher Peace resources, especially if used together, support all seven pillars of peace education. Skill-building is especially supported through interactive class lessons and games that familiarize students with conflict resolution, empathy, and team work. Gopher Peace nurtures emotional intelligences by helping students understand the emotions of anger and hurt, and how to peacefully resolve issues that lead to “negative” feelings. Through exposure to peace activists, particularly from underdeveloped nations, students have a chance to reframe history and their views of the world. All the activities and lessons in Gopher Peace allow students to explore a wide variety of approaches to peace through games, problems, simulations, and activities.
As the Gopher Peace work book does include some math and word problems, these lessons could feasibly be integrated into standard class periods. However, to get optimal use out of these wonderful resources, it would be very valuable to have a class period, even just once a week, dedicated to learning about peace through the Gopher Peace lesson plans and activity books. The Gopher Peace and the Peace Ranger story books should be displayed on the classroom bookshelf so that students can have access to them at their leisure. The beauty of these resources is that they holistically integrate lessons about peace, understanding, and conflict resolution into a classroom in a way that does not require an extensive change to the education system. These resources give teachers and students a way to learn about peace now, within the educational framework that we currently function within. Check out the awesome, interactive Gopher Peace website!