It's always nice to talk to children about people who have changed the world for the better. We tend to talk about these people of social change around holidays, for example, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I find it's nice to showcase famous people (and not-so-famous people) who have improved the world at anytime of the year. We call these people "Peacemakers". It's important for children to hear that peacemakers help people, are kind and follow through on their beliefs. They create, educate, advocate and encourage others. They inspire people without force and they show strength without weapons. It's important for children to know that these kinds of people exist… and that they, too, are peacemakers who can inspire change and help themselves, their family, their friends and their community.
At the beginning of the school year, I introduced a "Maria Montessori timeline" into our peace curriculum. Since I teach in a Montessori school, it makes sense for Dr. Montessori to be our introduction to peacemakers... plus September is near her birthday (Aug. 31). It's great to read books to children but it's a whole different feel to actually "tell them a story". There's a clear distinction. Many children ask you to tell them a story and they get excited when you're able to tell a story from memory.
When telling a story about a person's life, it's always nice to have props. They act in the same manner as the pictures on the page act when reading a book. Another plus is that you can place all the objects in a basket and place it on a shelf after the initial lesson. This allows a child go back to the work and retell themselves the story. Sometimes they make up their own story, too.
All you need to do is read a little bit about the person's life and pick things that you want to talk about. I tend to leave some things out on purpose -- for example, Maria Montessori had a child without being married. That raises questions that I'm not willing to answer in my classroom (ha!) so I just skip that whole part of her life. Maybe it's wrong. But I do include other major points of her life: born on the continent of Europe, country of Italy, parents names, loved school, enjoyed reading, wanted to be a doctor, decided to be a teacher, opened a school, taught adults how to be teachers, created Montessori materials, traveled the world, helped children learn, opened many more schools, gave speeches, grew into an older lady, died surrounded by flowers. You get the idea. It's best to choose points that stick with you and that you'll remember especially since it's a story you'll want to memorize before telling it. You really need to own the words and tell the story with feeling and expression. If it's someone else's re-telling of a story of someone else's life it makes it kind of hard to tell it in your own voice. Anytime you can incorporate a prop… do it! I also always include a real picture of the featured peacemaker.
I usually keep the objects in a basket and as I tell the story I pull out the object that corresponds to the life event that I'm talking about and then place them in order on a rug. Children love to hear about Maria Montessori because they associate her name with the kind of school they go to and they always ask "did she make this school??"