To 5-year-old Alex Schad, peace means something simple.
"A hug," he said.
Alex and more than 60 other students from Nurturing Nest Montessori School in Columbia, which serves students up to age 6, gathered together Wednesday to celebrate International Day of Peace.
They planted pinwheels they had created during class into flower boxes arranged in the shape of a peace sign, and joined Montessori schools from around the world in singing a song, "Light a Candle for Peace."
"We sang with all the continents on the world," said 5-year-old Ashley Young.
She said the song made her feel happy, and that the school gathered together to sing together for peace, "Because it filled the love."
The school's International Day of Peace celebration is just one part of its year-round effort to teach students about peaceful interactions, an effort guided by the philosophy of the Italian educator Maria Montessori, who lived from 1870 to 1952.
The teaching method she established, which is now practiced by schools across the globe, emphasizes independent learning that is more looselystructured than in traditional schools.
"Dr. Montessori's philosophy has a very strong peace curriculum that flows through all of the pieces of learning," said Nurturing Nest's director, Sabrina Fioretto. "And so here, we really focus on that every day."
Cathie Perolman, who teaches 3- to 6-year-olds at Nurturing Nest, said students at Nurturing Nest learn about peace "by living it."
"Children are taught to be peaceful within themselves, so they get to choose their own work, they get to choose how long they work on the thing that calls to them," she said. "And they work to be peaceful with each other."
The adults at the school help the children learn to be peaceful by helping them to work out what that means, Perolman said.
"And when there are problems, because problems always come up, because preschoolers always have problems, kindergartners always have problems, it's about, how do you resolve those problems in a peaceful way?" she said. "How do you get your needs met, without hurting anybody else? How do you use your words to solve those problems? And that's what Montessori is all about."
Fioretto said the language that Nurturing Nest students use in creating peaceful interactions with their peers is, "Helping to make other people's love light shine."
"'You did that for me and you made my love light shine,' or 'Oh, I didn't mean to make your love light go out,'" she said. "It gives them language to express how they're feeling and it puts the focus on, we're going to solve that problem, and we're going to walk away feeling good."
The Montessori method prioritizes this type of learning, Perolman said, which sets it apart from other teaching methods.
"I would rather that a child had less letters and more social skills, more interpersonal skills, than anything else," said Perolman. "Because these are the things that make you human, that make you able to solve problems."
Fioretto said that teachers at the school can teach students "all the math and reading," but that what the school really wants students to leave with is a knowledge of how to be good citizens.
She cited a quote by Maria Montessori, saying that peace in the world has to begin with children.
"They're the ones who don't have all the history, they don't feel the drama that we do, and the stress that we do," Fioretto said. "And if we can help them keep that as they move forward, they'll be peacekeepers, then, into the next decades."