Starting Small

In the face of widespread inequity and intolerance, the early childhood classroom can be a place of quiet revolution. (pg 196)

I am a big fan of instant gratification, teaching at the Primary level (3-6 year-olds) has always been a bit of a struggle for me in that regard.  A lot of my time is planting seeds. ( in my own real garden I plant those already grown suckers. instant gratification is my friend.)

As a former high school teacher, I had the result of sending children out into the world ( yay instant gratification) however, I was working with a population that was severely undeserved and many of those children were not performing at grade level ( or anywhere close)  It made me question our current school system, how we assess students, how they show mastery, why certain areas are required, and honestly, how did the students get to be 18 and not know how to do long division? Obviously my academic life was very different from theirs, but it sent me back to basics.

While I struggle with the my own desire for reward, I know that I am an important stop for children as they begin their academic life. Not only am I (and the countless other Primary teachers) the first stop for academics, I am often the first community outside of the family for these children. I’ll admit this is not something I took all that seriously when I first accepted the job as a primary teacher.  I don’t have children and my friends are just starting to produce their own.  But as the internet culture becomes more and more brutal and we’ve begun to backslide towards intolerance, I’ve recognized my role in a new way and am working towards building a stronger more accepting future. The process is slow and often unrecognizable.

“Legacy. What is a legacy?
It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see” – From the Musical Hamilton

Just before the inauguration of the 45th President, I stumbled across a book in the kitchen at my school titled: Starting Small Teaching Tolerance in Preschool and Early Grades.  It is written by the Teaching Tolerance Project and is fairly old (1997- crazy that 97 was 20 years ago.) but most is still relevant.  As the US enters a very divided time, it becomes even more important to be a strong leader and positive force in the lives of the children I teach.

I believe that while not all of us are teachers or parents, we are all still apart of the greater community.  If we’d like to set up the future to be a better place than it is now, we must do better now. As I read through the book, I earmarked and highlighted passages that spoke to me maybe they’ll speak to you too.


“Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved through understanding.” (p13)

“Take people seriously. ‘Whatever comment or criticism or suggestion a person comes up with, I must assume that it carries that person’s individual and cultural perspective and deserves my respect’.” (p34)

Anthropology for three-year-olds: “When we don’t give them language to talk about differences because we’re so scared of it, it becomes something that children feel as forbidden and dangerous.” (p35)

‘Oh you want to share. Let’s talk more about that. What does that mean for you?’ Because there are so many different ways to do it. For some children it might mean ‘I use it first and then you get to use it’ or ‘I get to decide what happens, and you can be the little baby’

“My focus is never on the toys, It’s can I help these children form a relationship?” (p 38)

“I won’t let you solve this by threatening him” (in reference to “you can’t come to my birthday if you don’t give me the marker” etc) (p39)

“I want them to know that injustice is not overcome by magic or wishes. People make it happen. You make it happen.” (p41)

” Fairness in the early childhood classroom has many dimensions.  On the teacher’s part, one goal of fairness is to give all the children an equal sense of security and well-being. A set of consistent rules and specified consequences for their violation provide both a model for each child’s own behavior and an assurance of protection from the misbehavior of others. Rules that promote sharing and turn taking ensure that ll children have access to resources, spaces and equipment.” (p46)

“Kids can’t practice what they haven’t been taught.” (p56)

“Diversity comes in myriad forms – beliefs, learning styles, personalities, family incomes, family structures, intellectual creative-social-physical abilities, and on and on.”(p79)

“Accordingly, the task for teachers in homogeneous minority schools is not to ‘introduce’diversity but to promote equity and positive identity development.” (p80)

“The task for teachers is not simply to present alternatives to media heroes. Rather, it is to help children develop the capacity to admire true heroism in others and to recognize this potential within themselves.” (pg 107)

“If I could wish something for every child in the world,” Mary says, “it would be to feel good enough about themselves and their environment to have the confidence just to talk to the person in front of them.” (p112)

“All of a sudden, their similarities and their differences become interesting.  The single most important thing in teaching tolerance,  I feel, is getting them to speak to each other and listen to each other – to really want to know what someone else is saying.” (p122)

“The practice of mainstreaming children with diverse abilities is founded on the belief that children of all ages have the capacity to work and play cooperatively with others of varying abilities. Ideally, mainstreaming does not attempt to minimize or ‘erase’ differences. Rather it provides the opportunity to teach children who to respond positively to the full range of differences, including those of ability.” (p131)

“…strategies can be helpful in fostering empathy across ability differences. First, Children should be given concrete information about the specific disability of their classmate This will reduce fear as well as the perception of ability differences as “strange” Second, the skills, strengths and talents of children with special needs should be pointed out so that other children will see them as peers, not objects of pity.” (p131)

“The more people in a child’s life who are practicing peace, the quicker a child learns to make and keep friends.” (pg 152)


The Teaching Tolerance website is an amazing resource.  I strongly urge anyone to use some of their free wanderings of the internet to explore the website.





2 thoughts on “Starting Small

  1. It’s certainly not instant, but you give these young children the tools to transform themselves and that has to be gratifying, too (in a much slower way of course). My son is currently a third-year in a Montessori primary classroom, and he has grown and learned so much over the three year cycle. When he started he couldn’t zip his own coat and was frightened of the pumpkins when they had a lesson in pumpkin scrubbing. Now he is a leader in the classroom, giving lessons to the younger students, and is reading independently and doing multiplication and division. We are so happy with the peace and cultural curriculum, and so grateful to his wonderful teachers. I am sure your students’ parents feel the same way! So thank you!

    And you are exactly right about sowing seeds, I think that is one of the reasons parents choose Montessori. There is such a pervasive message of anti-intellectualism and intolerance in our culture today. We want to counterbalance that by sowing seeds early, so that love of learning, tolerance, and kindness become part of the very core of our children.


    • Thank you for your kind comment! As a teacher the 3 year cycle is amazing to watch. By the time I send the children to first grade I’ve taught them for half of their lives! I had stumbled into Montessori (I didnt know much before I started subbing at my school and ultimately went for my Montessori training), and find that I absolutely love the community. I only wish it were available for all children. I have hope that by adding posts like these tucked between running, hiking, and budgeting posts, I have the opportunity to reach others.
      Thanks for stopping by 😊


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