By Elyse Jacobs
Some years ago, a friend brought me a cloth poster from the Quaker Centre in London. It was a pictogram on cooperation between two mules with different goals. Because they were tethered together, no matter how hard they pulled towards their separate desires, in this case two bales of hay, neither made progress.
Having created a program on peace education for preschoolers, the poster was greatly appreciated and hung at child’s eye level with two small chairs placed in front of it.
Using the non-judgmental concept our teachers promote on naming moments of contention as different ideas, I used each mule’s attempt to reach its individual bale of hay as a way to illustrate the specific conflicts the children were experiencing. Or, as written in a blog on Creative Solutions for Resolving Conflict, the one I was having with one of the children!
The Tale of the Two Mules, as told in pictures, is very engaging. It represents the concept of cooperation through sitting down and working out our conflicts together.
I’d have each child pick the mule they wanted to represent them. Pointing back and forth between the two struggling mules, I’d begin with details of the different ideas being expressed. For example, "That is me trying to get you to listen. That is you wanting to go back and play." Then I’d simply say, "Your idea, my idea, your idea, my idea," as the mules attempted unsuccessfully to reach their bales of hay. (The mules were quite like the children’s own stubborn attachment to their points of view.)
When the mules sit down together on the pictogram, a question mark between them, the children’s interactive engagement begins. Is it not in the space between us that relationships form and evolve or fall apart? In order to peacefully reach their individual goal they will need to negotiate. To learn these skills of cooperation early on is a service to the children and to a world that allows and encourages many different ideas.
Like the mules, the children will need to come up with an idea they both agree on. Then it’s time to try it out. The question will then be, "Did it work?" If it works, it’s back to playing with each other. If not, it’s time for a break before sitting down again to find a new potential solution.
With the confidence born of learning skills of negotiation and cooperation, we can be more open to listening to the ideas of others, confident in the process of discovering peaceful and creative ways of finding solutions to our conflicts.
Sharing ideas and practices for teaching peace to children with other organizations is of primary interest to me. This summer, I had the delightful opportunity to spend time in London with my 16-month-old grandson, his mom (my daughter) and dad. While here, I was delighted to be invited to the Quaker Centre. It felt full circle to visit the London home of the Tale of Two Mules poster. You can purchase a poster on their website for a small fee plus mailing costs.* Or contact the bookstore directly here.
Meeting with Isabel Cartwright and Ellis Brooks of their Education Department was truly inspiring. The morning of my visit, I was feeling that my 30 years of work in the field of peace was a drop in the proverbial bucket of what seemed a world in more conflict and chaos than ever.
Sitting down with them at the lovely Quaker Centre on 173-177 Euston Road in London, I was informed of their wonderful work with school age children as well as their participation in a network of committed peace educators. Included in their network are:
The Teach Peace Pack from these educators includes aims/goals, lesson plans and follow-up activities for children 5-12 years old and is available here. It includes a lesson for large groups of older children on Conflict Resolution: A tale of two mules. Many others can be adapted for younger children, something I plan to do and write about.
I came away from our meeting my arms filled with peace education packs, my spirits lifted, my mind clear as to the work ahead, and how grateful I am to still be doing it.