LEARNING SKILLS FOR LIFE: Using every day moments to teach children non-violent behaviour
In Viktorija Paunoska’s third grade classroom at Ljube Lape School in the capital Skopje, excited children huddle in groups around the table and talk strategy. Today is a special class on the environment and they are in the middle of the young teacher’s ‘Green Quiz’- a unique questionnaire designed to sensitize children to their relationship with the environment. While the topic of today’s life skills session does not explicitly tackle violence in school, it certainly triggered discussion around this issue of respect for living beings and Victoria seizes the moment to make the connection with the session they had last week on dealing with violent behaviour.
When asked to describe the difference between picking a leaf and breaking a branch from a tree, young Sophie responds, “Removing a leaf is like pulling out a hair where as ripping off a branch is like breaking an arm.”
Taken slightly back by the analogy with violence, Victoria reminds children about the non-violent and violent behaviours – topics they discussed last week during a session where all through role-play looked for a non-violent solution in the “Teasing Lea” story.
This, and many similar classroom exercises, was taken from the UNICEF supported Life Skills Education curricular for Grade IV to VI. A programme that was introduces as part of a package of interventions to address an increase in violence against and among children in school.
Life Skills Education curricular focuses on building skills, attitudes and knowledge needed to make positive choices….
Concerned by continuing high levels of physical and psychological violence UNICEF, with the financial support from IKEA and other donors, developed a package of system wide interventions to make schools safe and protective environments where children thrive.
While the programme includes a series of interventions to ensure the issue is addressed system wide, developing a curriculum to enhanced peaceful communication and , conflict resolution and supported by extracurricular activities , was identified as a key for ensuring behaviour change among children.
In 2009, Life Skills Education was introduced to bolster children’s individual, emotional and social development. It includes a broad range of topic from the environment to conflict resolution; however, the core focuses on building skills that children need to make positive life choices.
With support from UNICEF, the programme was rolled out to all primary schools, through cascade training and the development of age sensitive teacher reference material. Teachers find the curricular is extremely useful due to well developed manuals and inter-active methodology and children love it because it is fun and they can also relate and apply the acquired knowledge and skills in everyday situations.
The school’s director, Blagica Andreevska, echoes the teacher’s enthusiasm when it comes to prevention of violence and Life Skills and how the somewhat unorthodox subject has stimulated interest and involvement among the teaching staff.
“We work as a team, with regular meetings with all of the teachers involved, to try out new ideas and encourage each other. I’m happy to see that the quality of teaching is improving, with our teachers enthusiastic about trying out new methodologies such as Life Skills approach, especially the conflict resolution.”
….and builds non-violent interpersonal skills
The first sign of success, however, is in seeing how the students can creatively formulate responses to targeted questions.
In working through their ‘Green Quiz’ problems, Viktorija’s young students demonstrate some remarkably astute judgment and sensitivity. Through making analogies to their own experience and knowledge base, they are able to broaden their own worldview and generate lessons about violence, responsibility and fairness that would be.
For example, when asked the question “why do cats need to be cuddled, 10 year old Martin responds, “We should treat animals with respect and care for them just as we do with our friends. If we listen and understand each other and care about each other we will not get upset and fight”.
When all the groups presented their answers to the various questions, the teacher leads them towards a consideration of how they will apply what they have just learned to their own lives. Several children offer ideas about how they will behave with other children. However, the most important lesson may be in the process; Life Skills is just as much about the method of cooperating as it is about the result.
Speaking for her peers, another little girl, Svetla notes, “everyone in the group helped decide. They offered many solutions. When we have a problem we should all work together, because together we can come up with the best solutions.”