Wednesday, March 16, 2011

World Events in the Montessori Classroom: Alleviate Fear and Anxiety by Empowering Students

NAMC montessori classroom empowering students world events fear anxiety circle time
 ... we see that a child has a natural tendency to adapt himself to the other human beings who surround him in a striking way. In this tendency we should strive to find a basis for a love for, and a solidarity with, all mankind.
—Maria Montessori
The Discovery of the Child.

It has been a very interesting week at our Montessori preschool, full of emotions and unusual behavior. The recent earthquake in Japan and its aftermath has been a huge topic of conversation, and it is clearly weighing heavily on the minds of many of the children. First thing Monday morning one of my Montessori students raised his hand during circle time to share some news with his classmates, and I was shocked at his interpretation of what happens during an earthquake. He began to tell his fellow students about the earthquake in Japan and said the following: “Where there’s an earthquake, the earth starts to shake and then it just opens up and swallows people. The earth swallowed lots of people in Japan and then a tsunami washed away their families.” There were a few horrified looks from several of the younger preschoolers, and I knew at that moment a discussion was needed to explain the situation clearly.

Often the emotional reaction to a traumatic event is related to how far away one is, but with television and technology bringing intense images right into our homes, we are all impacted ... especially children! Observing a catastrophe like the earthquakes and tsunami in Japan can be devastating for young children, and the visual images and emotions connected to the event can be on their minds for a long time. Children may absorb worry and sadness from their parents, and feel anxious about whether something like that will happen to them and affect their own lives.

World Events in the Montessori Classroom: Alleviate Fear and Anxiety by Empowering Students

Judging from the looks on the faces of my Montessori preschoolers on Monday morning, I knew there was much anxiety in the room and many questions. I began our discussion by presenting the Colored Continent Globe, pointing out exactly where Japan is located. We talked about the earthquake that just occurred in Japan, and we talked about what an earthquake is. We also talked about a tsunami as many of the children didn't know what that term meant, and how the tsunami affected the people in Japan.

One of the little girls said that her heart feels sad for the Japanese people, and I told her that mine does too. I reassured her and the other children that there are many people all over the world who are doing what they can to help the people of Japan, by rebuilding homes, cleaning up the area, providing food, and donating money. My four-year-old Montessori student, Jordan, suggested that we donate money to help the people of Japan and thought maybe we could have a lemonade stand on a sunny day to earn money. I was really touched by Jordan’s suggestion and his willingness to help those in need at such a young age.

I always find that when children are given the opportunity to take action and help others, it ends up being such an empowering experience, and reinforces the fact that no matter where we are in the world, we are all connected!

Because we live in an area that is susceptible to earthquakes, I then explained the importance of being prepared for an earthquake and knowing what to do if one ever occurs where we live. We reviewed the earthquake drills that we have performed in the past. We discussed our earthquake procedure, and each child had a turn to practice doing a “turtle tuck” under one of the classroom tables. If an earthquake was to occur while preschool was in session the children are taught to respond to the Montessori teacher’s command, “earthquake”. Once they hear the command, they know to DROP (drop to the floor, specifically under a classroom table), COVER (cover their head with the hands like a turtle using its shell for protection) and HOLD that position until the shaking has stopped and the “all clear” is given by one of the teachers. I invited each child one by one to show me how they drop, cover, and hold to demonstrate their best “turtle tuck” under a table. I also showed them once again where we keep each of the comfort bags, as well as the food, water, and supplies that we would need if an earthquake ever occurred.

The discussion and drill really seemed to ease their anxiety and nervousness, and it is something we will continue to do regularly. When children feel like they know what to do in a dangerous situation, and when they are able to talk about their feelings and ask questions, it empowers them and alleviates the level of fear and anxiety.

I am sure that there will be amazing survival stories and heart-warming accounts of the compassionate assistance that is being extended to the people of Japan in the weeks to come, and I will monitor these with a view to finding appropriate opportunities to focus on positive community service discussions with my young Montessori students.

This year long series looks at the experiences of teachers, parents, students, and Montessori education itself, as we follow a student through his first year at a Montessori Preschool. Montessori Insights and Reflections of a Preschool Child’s First Year is a collection of useful stories, tips, and information that have arisen from one real student's Montessori journey.

Bree — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, March 16, 2011.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience! It's very valuable for me.

  2. Great post. I have a tendency to shield my children from such things as I want them to feel safe and protected at all times. We hardly watch T.V. so they have not seen the images. I don't think they even know what happened in Japan. If they do they haven't said a thing about it. After reading your post I feel a little better knowing the children were able (with the correct information) handle the situation and even come up with ideas to help. I will take your ideas and use them if my kids mention it to me. Thank you.

  3. Thank-you both for your feedback and I'm pleased to hear that you found my post valuable. Over the years I have learned that young children are very capable of understanding so much more than we give them credit for and as long as you can deliver the information in a sensitive, age appropriate manner, it usually ends up being an empowering experience for them. Thank-you again!


Have questions or comments? Let us know what you thought about this article!

We appreciate feedback and love to discuss with our readers further.

NAMC Blog Inquiries Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Search the NAMC Montessori Teacher Training Blog

Are you interested in reading back through NAMC's blog articles from years gone by, or for more information on a specific topic?

Browse a select list of our most popular categories below; by clicking on one, you will see every article posted under that topic since 2007. You may also use the lower archive menu to select a year and month, displaying all blog posts in the chosen time frame.

If you are seeking a range of information on a certain topic or idea, try this search box for site-wide keyword results.

Choose From a List of Popular Article Topics

NAMC Montessori Series

Montessori Philosophy and Methodology

Montessori Classroom Management

The School Year

Montessori Materials

Montessori Curriculum

Montessori Infant/Toddler (0–3) Program

Montessori Early Childhood (3–6) Program

Montessori Elementary (6–12) Programs

What is Montessori?

Search Archives for Montessori Blog Posts by Date

Thank you to the NAMC Montessori community!

This year marks NAMC’s 20th anniversary of providing quality Montessori distance training and curriculum development to Montessorians around the globe. Since we began in 1996, we have grown to build a fantastic community of students, graduates, and schools in over 120 countries. We are grateful for your continued support and dedication to furthering the reach and success of the Montessori method. Thank you for sharing this amazing milestone with us!