The Playing for Change Foundation: An Innovative Approach to Peace Education

The Playing for Change Foundation fosters positive social interactions among at-risk youth through music education. Students have the opportunity to learn and play music with their peers in a safe environment, establishing community and peace building for youth suffering from poverty, infectious diseases, conflicts, genocide, etc. The foundation currently has 8 schools dedicated to fulfilling this mission in Mali, Ghana, Nepal, Rwanda, and South Africa. More information about this initiative can be found on their website:

     This project can be expanded to elementary, middle and high school students in America. Many schools have had to cut their music programs due to a lack of funding for instruments, but I believe these programs can be just as important as the other essential subjects mandated in K-12 education. Playing an instrument can generally help improve students’ performance in math, in addition to introducing them to various genres and international music. It also offers a creative outlet for students to engage in, helping demote violent behavior and activities in and outside of the classroom. As a student, I recall required music education sessions in elementary school. By middle school, music lessons were no longer required, although concert band was an option. All participants were responsible for renting or purchasing their own instrument. Having free access to instruments, as demonstrated through the Playing for Change Foundation may create higher participation for students whose families are financially unable to provide them with an instrument. By increasing the number of music programs in schools, students, particularly at-risk youth have a safe space to engage in teamwork and personal growth. Learning an instrument and being creative does not only have to be an activity for small children; all age groups should be encouraged to participate in the fine arts and have the ability to do so.

     The concept of PFC does not have to be exclusive to schools. Camp counselors, Sunday school instructors, and other leaders can integrate music into their programs. It will be important for any instructor to have access to a variety of instruments, such as guitars, pianos, drum sets, xylophone, tambourines, etc. Guest instructors with a background in music should be invited to teach the students how to play the instruments. A small 20-30 minute session can be set aside for this activity during any given time of instruction. Students should be encouraged to create a song together in order to promote teamwork and to perform their song in front of their peers to boost self-confidence. Students who become passionate about learning, creating, and playing music will be likely to engage in music outside of the classroom, helping them refrain from violence when they are feeling bored or when facing a personal struggle.  

     The multiple intelligence pedagogy is relevant in peace building through music education. Some students are visual learners and may prefer to learn a song by reading the notes or studying written instructions. Others may learn by doing, i.e., watching someone else demonstrate how to play a song on their own instrument and then trying it themselves. Other students may be auditory learners, being able to pick up an instrument by ear or following spoken directions well. Regardless of how each student learns how to play their instrument, they all learn peace building, even if they are unaware of this, by working together as a team and being patient with each other’s different learning styles and pace of comprehension of new material. Students will not only leave their lessons with new music skills, they will have the skills to be more effective communicators by helping their classmates if they do not understand something. Having fun together while creating community may also be a gateway toward positive attitudes about collaboration, taking turns on instruments, and being patient as each participant learns through their own unique style.   

     Two stakeholders who would benefit from this resource are music teachers at my local high school and camp counselors for elementary and middle school-aged students. Music teachers can benefit from this resource by implementing these activities in their schools. They can collaborate with community centers or instructors at other schools to create after-school activities if there is not sufficient funding to hold a program in every institution. A camp counselor can utilize this resource by holding music sessions in addition to other daily activities. Camps usually foster the ideals of sportsmanship, teamwork, and leadership in the participating youth, so learning and creating music would be a great way to emphasize these concepts. Competitions between small groups of campers of the most creative song, as voted on by the entire group, can help promote sportsmanship. If students need assistance reading notes or finding the correct key on their instruments, other students can exemplify teamwork and leadership by helping them.


Fostering Peace Building Strategies in Youth

The National Crime Prevention Council offers a variety of lesson plans for students based on grade level. I found one that is tailored to teach children in kindergarten and first grade the basic concept of conflict and the benefits of settling them justly and quickly. The full activity can be found here: Students are asked to express how they would feel when a conflict is not solved fairly and to brainstorm ways that they can do so in response to a variety of scenarios. The instructor then introduces resolution methods and examples that accommodate the age group, such as chance, taking turns, apologizing, and sharing. The children are asked to brainstorm their own examples of conflict, which they practice solving with the aforementioned methods.

I believe this lesson plan can be used to teach children peace building strategies at any elementary school level. The examples of the resolution methods can be altered according to the age group so they can better relate to the scenario. Some children may remain vulnerable to bullying and violent approaches to conflict after first grade; therefore, reinforcing these essential methods can make a significant difference in a child’s life.

How this resource can be used to teach children conflict resolution

This lesson plan teaches fundamental character and behavior, such as fairness, kindness, and sharing as conflict resolution strategies and can be conducted in a normal classroom setting. Educators may thus find this exercise especially relevant when they are focusing on the Six Pillars of Character in their regular lesson plans. No special materials are needed for this activity and at least 30 minutes should be dedicated to it.

This peace building activity pertains to the skill building and nurturing emotional intelligence pedagogies for conflict analysis and resolution, which are the ultimate goals of this exercise. Skill building is established when students utilize nonviolent approaches to conflict, such as listening, recognizing and accommodating each individual’s needs, and negotiating a resolution based on the identified needs. Strengthening these skills at a young age will help students be effective in conflict prevention and resolution as adults, allowing them to identify a problem as it escalates and applying their skills to develop methods to subdue it.

By asking students to identify how they feel during a conflict that produces an unfair outcome, they become more emotionally intelligent. Children who can express their feelings and understand why they feel upset or content during a conflict may find it easier to be aware of why others are feeling the way they are and how they can better accommodate each aspiration, including their own, during problem solving. Students with a firm emotional intelligence may also be able to better control negative feelings that provoke violence. This serves as a gateway for them to integrate their problem solving skills into the situation.

Through this activity, students will ultimately learn to approach a situation with a positive attitude and with the intention of resolving the conflict non-violently. In addition, children who are introduced to peace learning strategies may be less inclined to engage in bullying and more likely to use peaceful tactics if a conflict should arise. Two stakeholders whom may be able to effectively apply this activity into their lesson plans are kindergarten and first grade teachers at a local elementary school and my former kindergarten teacher who now serves as a guidance counselor. I will reach out to each to raise awareness about the conflict resolution tactics that their students can benefit from in this lesson.