Finding Peace through Reflection, Art, Story, and Higher Ground for Ourselves and Our Children


Wel­come to the third arti­cle in our series, Peace-olo­gy: Find­ing High­er Ground. Our first two arti­cles dis­cussed the con­cept of High­er Ground and the infra­struc­ture of peace­build­ing in our class­rooms and homes. In this arti­cle, we explore find­ing peace with­in. How can we shift our hearts and minds towards peace? How can we help the chil­dren in our class­rooms do the same? What books, both for chil­dren and adults, can sup­port our efforts?

Joyce Bonafield-Pierce: Let Peace Begin with Me

Let Peace Begin with MeI sang the song that begins, “Let there be peace on earth. And let it begin with me” for years until one day I real­ized: Yes, peace real­ly does begin with me! I choose what I put out into the world. And those choic­es can make a huge dif­fer­ence, even if to one per­son. I am respon­si­ble for my respons­es, whether they come from Low­er Ground or High­er Ground. Response-able implies that I have that choice, and what I choose is my response-abil­i­ty.

How can con­tribute peace to a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion? Instead of get­ting angry, or using harsh words, or putting some­one in her place, can I stop, breathe, and find anoth­er response – a High­er Ground response?

To respond from a place of peace, I need to nur­ture peace at my cen­ter. I need a rock­ing chair or a “peace place” — real or imag­ined — where I can go to be calm amidst the chaos of the moment.

I need calm before I can find a way to counter or pos­si­bly trans­form the neg­a­tiv­i­ty or over­whelm fac­ing me.

For chil­dren who are just form­ing a view of them­selves and the world, my response (or any adult’s response) – Low­er Ground or High­er Ground— is mag­ni­fied through their eyes. Chil­dren ask, “Is the world a car­ing and safe place that val­ues me? Or is it a place as found in the Hunger Games, where car­ing is absent, and we must com­pete for our very survival?”

How can we bring our more peace­ful selves into our class­rooms and allow that calm space with­in us to radi­ate out? How can we help our stu­dents feel their own calm as they work on their dai­ly projects? This can be espe­cial­ly chal­leng­ing with cer­tain stu­dents who do not yet have the skills to deal with their anger and frus­tra­tion and tend to act it out instead. We can help these young peo­ple find their own peace place.

Nel Nod­dings, an edu­ca­tor who fur­ther devel­oped Car­ol Gilligan’s “eth­ic of care,” states that more than lead­ing our class­es by rules, though they’re impor­tant, we can focus on how we respond to our stu­dents. Ver­bal­ly notic­ing and reflect­ing the good things they do back to them, acknowl­edg­ing their strengths and tal­ents, speaks vol­umes. We can mod­el the behav­ior we would like to see in our stu­dents and make vis­i­ble to them how we find a peace place with­in our­selves. With our empa­thy, under­stand­ing, and appre­ci­a­tion, chil­dren can stretch and grow into their best selves.

Noddings,Nel. The Chal­lenge to Care in Schools: An Alter­na­tive Approach to Edu­ca­tion. (2nd. Ed.). 2005. New York, NY: Teach­ers Col­lege Press.

Helping Children Find Their Own Peace through Art

Renee Dauk-Bleess: As Joyce wrote, peace begins with us. We each have the “response-abil­i­ty” to con­tribute peace to a sit­u­a­tion. As the art teacher for my ele­men­tary school, I try to man­i­fest the three build­ing blocks of peace­mak­ing in my classroom:

  • Cre­ate a phys­i­cal space that sup­ports and upholds teach­ing for peace
  • Set up a calm­ing atmos­phere of peace, using the beau­ty of nature, music, and the sound  of water, and 
  • Inten­tion­al­ly mod­el and inte­grate a shared lex­i­con of peace

Our first peace art project was to design a Tri-fold Name Plate, our first step to find our inner peace. To begin, stu­dents fold­ed a stan­dard 8.5’ x 11 sheet of paper into thirds. On Side #1, they wrote their name in the mid­dle of the paper using a favorite col­or mark­er. Side #2, they cre­at­ed a one minute free-flow­ing line design as they lis­tened to beau­ti­ful, soft music. Side #3, at the top of the paper, they wrote the sen­tence “What brings me peace.” Togeth­er, we dove into cre­at­ing that shared lex­i­con of peace, iden­ti­fy­ing what peace looks like and feels like to us.

With chart paper at the ready, I asked stu­dents: What does peace FEEL like in your bod­ies? Hes­i­tant at first, a few stu­dents start­ed to share. Then more ideas flowed: 

Peace feels like …

  • You are in the moment
  • Safe
  • You can breathe
  • Hap­py
  • Calm
  • Relaxed
  • Focused
  • Qui­et
  • Free
  • Trust
  • You have peace of mind
  • Com­fort­able

I then asked stu­dents to think about what peace LOOKS like; to pon­der words, images, thoughts, peo­ple, places, ani­mals, or expe­ri­ences that bring them that feel­ing of PEACE

Peace looks like …

  • Birds chirp­ing in the morning 
  • Sit­ting in the sun
  • A koi pond
  • Hunt­ing
  • Fish­ing
  • Play­ing music
  • Fam­i­ly and friends
  • The wind
  • Waves hit­ting the shore
  • My dog
  • Hold­ing a baby
  • The sound of a heartbeat
  • Look­ing up at the moon 

We took time to share as many ideas as we could. As stu­dents brain­stormed, our shared lex­i­con of peace grew stronger.

I want­ed stu­dents to embody that sense of peace, to inter­nal­ize it, and to visu­al­ize what brings them peace. On Side #3 of our Tri-Fold, I asked them to add three bul­let points under the sen­tence “What brings me peace.” After each bul­let point, I asked them to write a word or a phrase, a spe­cial per­son or place, a com­fort­ing image or thought, an expe­ri­ence, or an ani­mal that helps bring them peace. Stu­dents were encour­aged to illus­trate these as well. 

Now when chil­dren enter the art room, they place their Tri-Fold Name Plate on their desks, like a tent, with the peace side turned toward them. We take thir­ty sec­onds to read and remind our­selves of what brings us peace. Then, with a qui­et breath, we get start­ed on our art project of the day.

Finding Peace in Children’s Picture Books

Caren Stel­son: Joyce remind­ed us, peace begins from with­in, and Renee Dauk-Bleess and her stu­dents illus­trat­ed what brings them peace on their Tri-Fold Name Plates. Children’s book authors Bap­tiste Paul and Miran­da Paul with illus­tra­tor Esteli Meza have fol­lowed a sim­i­lar path. Togeth­er they have cre­at­ed the vibrant, rhyming pic­ture book, Peace, that joy­ful­ly echoes and adds to Joyce’s and Renee’s ideas.

Peace is on purpose.

Peace is a choice.

Peace lets the small­est of us have a voice.

When we are with friends or enjoy­ing a care­free day, peace can come eas­i­ly. But when con­flict emerges, peace becomes com­pli­cat­ed. That’s the moment to stop, take a breath and remember,

I am respon­si­ble for my respons­es.”

That may also be the moment to reach for the pic­ture book, How to Apol­o­gize, by David LaRochelle, illus­trat­ed by Mike Wohnout­ka. The first sen­tence is, “Every­one makes mis­takes.” What hap­pens after the mis­take is up to us. We may need to be response – able and apologize.

But how?

The char­ac­ter Hip­po offers two con­trast­ing exam­ples — a Low­er Ground and a High­er Ground apol­o­gy. Apol­o­gy #1: “… if your lad­der wasn’t tak­ing up so much space, I wouldn’t have bumped into it.” Apol­o­gy #2. “I’m sor­ry I knocked you over.”

Which apol­o­gy would you pre­fer to offer? Which apol­o­gy would you pre­fer to receive? Going deep­er, what brave apolo­gies can we make or accept that could bring heal­ing, jus­tice and peace into our own lives, our homes, com­mu­ni­ties and beyond?

Modeling Embodied Gratitude and Inner Peace for Our Students

Ellie Rosch­er: In 12 Tiny Things: Sim­ple Ways to Live a More Inten­tion­al Life, Hei­di Barr and I wrote the chap­ter on HOME as an invi­ta­tion to grat­i­tude. Embod­ied grat­i­tude is anoth­er way to think about being at inner peace. I lived in fif­teen dif­fer­ent places between grad­u­at­ing from col­lege and buy­ing my first house. In that tran­sient sea­son, I learned to be grate­ful for the ever-shift­ing roof over my head. It was my response-abil­i­ty to choose grat­i­tude. I also learned to expe­ri­ence a sense of home in my body, in my rela­tion­ships, and in the present moment as my liv­ing quar­ters changed. Our mantra for the chap­ter reads: Grat­i­tude, embod­ied, is to find home with­in. If we expe­ri­ence our bod­ies as home, we can live from a place of peace.

Years into home own­er­ship, I do expe­ri­ence home in my house, yes, but I con­tin­ue to inhab­it my body and know it as home as well. Grat­i­tude keeps me awake to the gift of my body and the rich­ness of the present moment. Naguib Mah­fouz says, Home is not where you were born; home is where all your attempts to escape cease. There are end­less invi­ta­tions to escape our bod­ies and dwell in our minds or to escape the present moment to exist in the past or the future. There are end­less invi­ta­tions to get swept up in con­flict and live from Low­er Ground. It is my response-abil­i­ty to choose to be mind­ful of my breath a few times a day, and my breath anchors me in my body and in this moment. It is my peace place. If I were in Renee’s art class, I would draw, “My con­scious breath” on my Tri-Fold Name Plate.

With my con­scious breath, I more often respond instead of react. This sim­ple prac­tice has grown grat­i­tude for what is with­in in me and around me. I embody grat­i­tude, which encour­ages me to be at home wher­ev­er my feet are plant­ed, liv­ing more often from a High­er Ground and tak­ing my abil­i­ty to respond seri­ous­ly. With a col­lec­tive con­scious breath, we can help our stu­dents learn to do the same.


For each Peace-olo­gy post, Caren, Ellie, Renee, and Joyce part­ner to learn and explore the mean­ing of peace by talk­ing and lis­ten­ing with each oth­er. If you’d like to share your ideas about peace, books, and chil­dren, please share your com­ments here, vis­it our web­sites, or con­nect with Joyce and Renee about their High­er Ground work.

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David LaRochelle
David LaRochelle
1 year ago

What an hon­or to have How to Apol­o­gize list­ed with all these oth­er valu­able books. Thank you.

Caren Stelson
Caren Stelson
Reply to  David LaRochelle
1 year ago

David, you are so wel­come. I love HOW TO APOLOGIZE. Thank you for writ­ing the pic­ture book and thank you for read­ing our arti­cle. Take good care.