Peace education: Children  learning through dance

Lately I’ve been writing a lot about team building in the Primary classroom to strengthen your classroom’s sense of community.  But perhaps ‘team’ is the wrong word.

peace education

Our classroom is like a version in miniature of the peaceful communities that we would like to build in our states, countries, and across the world.  Perhaps our focus should be about teaching for peace rather than for the ‘survival of the fittest’.

How does dance support peace education?

There are many ways to use dance to help children understand about peace building. But here are a few ideas that could be useful in your dance class.

Firstly, students and teachers planning together to achieve artistic and creative goals as a way of supporting a peaceful and cooperative classroom community.  And secondly, developing dance choreographic/responding activities that represent other people’s ideas about how they experience the world.

However, like all strategies for the classroom we need to reflect on how and why we are implementing these as a part of our teaching.  Alfie Kohn, author and critic of competition and rewards in schools, writes about some of the pitfalls in community building, empathy, and perspective taking in the classroom.  His article is well worth a read and asks us to take a different perspective!

Everyone talks about peace, but no one educates for peace.  People educate for competition and this is the beginning of any war.  When we educate to cooperate and be in solidarity with one another, that day we will be educating for peace.                         Maria Montessori

Planning to dance together as peace education

Rae Pica, one of my all-time favourite dance and movement educators, recently wrote about the pitfalls in games that discriminate and eliminate like musical chairs.  These kinds of games result in learning for the few rather than teaching about working together.

We often position dance games as being fun, but as a part of arts practice, do they achieve what we hope they will?  Team building should be about building personal relationships as a foundation for developing community in the classroom rather than being a great competitor.

Of course, there is competition in life, but we’re not preparing children to do battle with each other.  Doing your own personal best does not mean that you are trying for someone else to miss out.

In the articles and resources on DTI, we have included many dance games for children but often they are not about winning or losing.  Instead, the focus is clearly on working together to achieve a common goal.

Consult and support, not corral and control

Dance is not only about achieving personal goals, even though in a professional sense, it can often seem a lonely relationship with the mirror in a dance studio.   It’s about how we work together.  This can be the relationship between the dancers and the choreographer,

the choreographer and the composer,

the rehearsal director and the dancers,

and between the dancers themselves.

In Primary school dance activities, the children work collaboratively to choreograph and perform dances.  They bring together their ideas and negotiate solutions to the creative problems that may arise.

This requires more than simple cooperation.  It requires teachers and students to plan together.  To give children opportunities to direct their own learning.  They need to set goals and make decisions about how they will learn and create, collectively.

‘Working with’ children to solve creative problems rather than ‘teaching to’ encourages coming together with a range of skills.  This privileges diversity of thinking rather than looking for a right answer.

This surely is the trademark of being creative.  Not only thinking in different ways but accepting others’ ideas and feeding off them to grow.  Being inclusive rather than exclusive.

peace education

Any teacher who has observed artistic disagreements in their classroom knows that through dance students learn about conflict resolution.  Dance connects children through expression and teaches about reflection and communication as ways of responding to their own and others’ sometimes differing ideas and views.

Through dance activities, children reflect on the way they have collaborated to meet their creative goals.  They can identify ways of working together successfully and apply them in other classes.


Perspective taking through dance storytelling

Storytelling through dance is a way of enabling children to see the world through other people’s eyes.  Through embodied activities, children are more likely to explore someone else’s perspective and represent their ideas through movement.

Choreographic activities that give each child an opportunity to express their culture through collectively created movement about their lived experience avoids stereotyping.  Sharing through movement is central to children’s growing self-awareness and empowers children to tell their own dance stories.

We need to remember that children are active meaning makers.  And that teachers are there to be active with them.  The dance teacher raises the questions and challenges that the children have uncovered as a part of their exploration.  Encouraging more complex thought and consequently creating more fulfilling dance.

This gives the teacher a vehicle to explore and build on the children’s ideas of community, perspective taking, and empathy.  As a result, children become better at working together in their search for meaning, creating a caring and constructive community.

peace education


Lesley Pruitt and Erica Rose Jeffery’s, Dancing through Dissonance: Creative Movement and Peace Building, sheds light on ways of engaging youth in peace building through Creative Movement.  It has many insights into dance as a part of peace practice. This book includes interviews with youth leaders and the theoretical underpinnings of peace building and dance.

And finally…

Dance, in the early year’s classroom and beyond, is about cooperation and collaboration.  It’s viewing ideas from another person’s perspective.  Not as a way of gaining a competitive edge but about achieving a goal.

Peace education in Primary school is about finding meaningful ways to develop community understanding and avoid social exclusion and cultural stereotyping.  Dance can be an important part of how your students understand peace.  Let’s start with peace inside our classrooms and then spread the love.