Summer Peace School Excites Children

While many young people attend week-long vacation Bible schools during the summer, a similar one-week program in Columbus takes a somewhat different tack.

The Summer Peace School brings together children and adults from different religions and ethnic backgrounds to explore ways to work together to solve problems without fighting.

Executive Director Of the Interfaith Center for Peace Madeleine Trichel began the Summer Peace School in 1982. We don’t try to tell people that they never will have conflict, she says. We’re trying to teach the skills for taking care of each other.

Whether you call it teaching alternatives to violence, conflict resolution or the making of peacemakers, something exciting was happening during the past week Indianola Presbyterian Church. Children and adults sang songs, played games and took part in other activities designed to emphasize working together to work things out.

One of the games they played was Shark, a parachute game. On this day, 20 children from early elementary age to teenage and five adults are sitting on the ground in the front yard of the church. One volunteer goes under the parachute and becomes the shark. As the shark touches their feet, children shriek and squirm, pretending to be pulled under the parachute.

The children continue holding the edges of the parachute and respond when Trichel asks, What does Shark have to do with being a peacemaker? They loudly respond, It’s fun! Trichel: Do peacemakers have fun? Children: Yeah!

The children’s response all but drowns out one voice, but Trichel hears and asks the child to repeat. It’s a cooperative game, says the boy. Do peacemakers cooperate, asks Trichel. Yes is the answer. Trichel asks, What else does [Shark] have to do with peacemaking? No hurting, says one child. Another insists, And it’s fun for everyone!

At the conclusion of the parachute games, the shark group joins the younger children for a snack followed by singing. The children are gathered on the steps of the church and nearby in the yard as Trichel announces, We’re gonna do the tomato song first.

A chant begins with adults leading first and then more children joining in. The chickens got into the TOE-MAY-TOES. Later, Trichel explains that this song is a perennial favorite, partly because it is a chant, it is easy to learn, and those unable to sing can join in too.

She adds, singing in rounds show cooperation. The final song is pretty, she says, they can start to hear the music that we make together.

Trishell says she uses the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf to teach the children five steps for solving problems. She explains, We heard from the wolf and we heard from Red Riding Hood and found out what was really going on, and they worked it out.

Red Riding Hood didn’t like that the wolf said she was wearing funny clothes. And the wolf didn’t like her walking through his woods. He was just trying to take care of the woods. It was his woods where he lived, and he wanted to keep it clean. He didn’t know what she was up to.

Trichel explains the five steps for solving problems illustrated by Red Riding Hood and the wolf. I taught it to them on their hands. It’s time out/clear out. That means stop the action and get to a quiet place. Agree to try. And be kind. And then the next step is, you start with I’ and tell what happened. The other person starts with You said,’ and tells back what they heard. They take turns doing that until the whole story is out.

Then they come up with all the ways they can think of to solve the problem. And step number five is, they agree on something to try. Essentially, it’s a real simple form of mediation and negotiation, and we’ve been teaching it for 25 years.

Trichel says many children who attended the Summer Peace School over the years now have degrees in international studies. Some are mediators. One is working with a non-governmental, youth-serving organization. She’s been all over the world.

One former peace school student has been on the staff of the U-S ambassador to the United Nations. Trichel says others who attended the summer peace school work locally in various capacities to encourage the peaceful resolution of problems.

It’s not something where we tell people what they should do, explains Trichel. But I find that children especially know in their hearts what people need to live peacefully together.”

“And if they just have a chance to sit with that for a little bit, and to think about it and to be affirmed and to know that there are grown-ups who care about that and believe that, then that sometimes makes a difference.

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