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Teaching Academics and Social-Emotional Skills in the Montessori Classroom

One by one the students gather. They aren’t instructed to form a circle, yet their natural curiosity and excitement lead them there. Pulling a card from the deck, the young boy reads it out loud in a voice as confident as the Yellow Lion that adorns it, “I make my feelings and I can change them with my thoughts.” The magic of the card lives within the small hands that hold it. 

It was her classroom’s first time using the PeaceMakers cards and Emily could already sense the shift. Doors were opening and change was possible. 

PeaceMakers card game during school circle time

Emily Canibano is a Montessori teacher with a classroom of 16 students who range in age from 1.2 to 5.5 years. “I was looking for a way to teach social-emotional skills, to promote positive interactions and increase awareness for my classroom community, both in feeling emotions and in the safe expression of them.” 

She continues, “My school uses Facebook as a way to connect with parents. Generation Mindful was selected as an ad that I might be interested in. I usually ignore these, but this time I decided to click, and this one-click changed my classroom.” 

Emily received her Time-In-ToolKit in June of 2019. “We were facing a challenge within my classroom,” she explains. “I had been noticing a culture where, instead of educating our children about their emotions, there was a strong push to make the children happy. I often heard things such as, ‘You seem frustrated. How can I help make you happy?’ and this was worrisome to me.” 

Happiness is an inside job, Emily shares, an embodied experience, and when we teach children to look outward rather than inward when it comes to big emotions, issues can arise. “When a child feels like their happiness is someone else’s responsibility, there becomes a great disconnect between the child’s thought processes, their reactions and how those reactions affect others. And this can manifest in many classroom behaviors such as taking another child’s work, pushing, lying, and so forth.”

Emily continues, “The little boy who pulled the Yellow Lion PeaceMakers card was one of these children; easily triggered and in the habit of looking to others to find his "happy". Him pulling that card was a perfect segue into discussing how all feelings are safe to feel and how, ultimately, we are in charge of not only noticing and naming our feelings, but for our actions as well, and that no one can change these things for us without our consent. The children were excited by the notion that they have the power to not only notice and to feel their emotions but to manage them.” 

And while it may feel good to be happy, "happy" is not always the goal. There is a wide array of emotions to be experienced that teach students about themselves and the world around them. “I wanted to help our students know themselves in all emotional states. I wanted to help swing the pendulum the other way - to put the power back into the child.” 

Children and teacher playing with PeaceMakers cards

As a class, the students embraced the PeaceMakers cards. “The PeaceMakers were a big hit,” states Emily. “Since introducing them, I receive at least one request a day asking to play the PeaceMakers game. By the time a child finds me to ask me to lead the game, they have already set up a rug and invited friends. Anyone not directly invited pauses their work to join us.” 

She continues, “We sit around the rug and each child gets to pick a card from the deck then, depending on the day or what we are working on in Grace and Courtesy lessons, I invite the children to discuss how the card pertains to them.” Emily also shares her observations too. “I might say something like, ‘I noticed you embodied this card yesterday when a friend took the last piece of apple for a snack and you were angry but you chose to calmly come and ask an adult for more.’”

In addition to teaching children about their emotions, Emily finds playful ways to use the tools for academics. “We like to expand everything in our classroom, connecting the tools to language, math and more.” 

Emily states, “We sit in a circle around a work rug and each child gets a chance to draw a card. We read it, discuss it and then lay it down on the rug. As a math extension we lay them down in columns based on the PeaceMakers Pal - some days we may have 4 hummingbirds next to 3 foxes, 4 bears, and 2 lions. We then discuss which column has the most, which has the least, which are equal, or which have none, which have half as many as others, etc. We have also made charts across a week to see which PeaceMakers cards  have been chosen the most to help open the discussion on probability, comparison, and so forth.”

The PeaceMakers cards stretch beyond social-emotional and academic skills alone. They also align with the school’s Montessori philosophies that serve as pillars for the school’s foundation. Emily shares some examples:

  • Friendliness with mistakes - Violet Elephant’s “My mistakes help me learn and grow” card
  • Expectations of the three-hour work cycle- Red Bear’s “I stick with things and get things done” card
  • Support of a vegan environment - Red Bear’s “Trees, animals and all of nature are my friends” card

“We have found that whatever situation we are encountering in class, the PeaceMakers cards create an easy way to prompt discussion and bridge into our Grace and Courtesy lessons. For example, Red Bear’s card of “I am safe and secure” helped give a jump-off point to discuss ways our bodies could feel safe as a class and then, through a Grace and Courtesy lesson, we practiced how to ask a friend for a hug, how to say no to a hug and how to accept no as an answer.”

PeaceMakers cards as an academic extension

Emily shares that the PeaceMakers cards were so well received within her class that she decided to purchase all seven of the SnuggleBuddies, a plush toy designed to encourage children to notice, name and share their feelings. “Our SnuggleBuddies make guest appearances and show up on a shelf or chair. They can also be found in the classroom Calming Corner.” 

The Calming Corner within Emily’s classroom is adorned with the framed posters from the Time-In ToolKit, photos of children from her class, a sand timer, a child meditation bench, and a handheld mirror. Emily explains, “The Calming Corner is used by the children as a self-regulation tool. It is not somewhere they are sent, though an inquiry may be made at times to whether or not it could be useful when emotionally charged situations arise. When children feel overstimulated, feel like they want to relax or feel like they need some space, they can enter the corner one at a time.” 

The Toolkit and SnuggleBuddies also have a group component within the classroom. “Since we are in a Montessori primary classroom, we do not have mandatory circle time. Presentations are given in a group format and children are welcome to come and go as they please.”

Classroom calming corner

Emily shares her perceived benefits of using the Time-In-Toolkit. “For me, as an educator, I spend much less time creating social-emotional materials since purchasing the kit. The quality of the materials is something I could not have replicated on my own.”

Emily also takes a personal interest in the products. “As an avid yoga practitioner, the color-coding and link to the chakras resonate with me, which I believe is important.” Emily’s’ master's thesis was on adult engagement with children and their activities. Her study found an increase in engagement when the adults found the activity something they could relate to and/or were interested in.  “I find that, in the classroom, the same is applicable. These beautiful materials are of high quality and provide a backdrop for talking to children about social-emotional topics, which can be challenging in a classroom setting. Because of this, I impart an appreciation of them to the children and use them more frequently.” 

The Time-In Toolkit and SnuggleBuddies have fully integrated into Emily’s Montessori classroom. “We found these tools in a time where we felt desperate for a solution. We now play our PeaceMakers game daily, sometimes several times a day and, as children become readers, it has become a rite of passage to lead the PeaceMakers game in our classroom.”

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Generation Mindful creates educational tools, toys, and programs that nurture emotional intelligence through play and positive discipline. Join us and receive joy in your inbox each week.

Time-in Toolkit in action

Peacemakers Card Game in action


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