Youngest members of local church learn lesson in diplomacy

If you happen to drive down Martinazzi Avenue next week, keep an eye out for a few unusual blooms springing up along the road. After all, it’s pinwheel season.

On Sept. 20, a group of Tualatin children will “plant” the toys — with purpose. For the fourth year in a row, Tualatin United Methodist Church will participate in the International Day of Peace, with an artistic tradition that has become a worldwide labor of love for many young crafters.

“It’s just something I started doing with the kids four years ago,” explained Emilie Kroen, who teaches Sunday school from the preschool through second-grade levels at the church. “We do lessons about being peacemakers. I thought it was really cool for the kids to be able to make pinwheels and show feelings about that.”

The project began in Coconut Creek, Fla., in 2005, when high school art teachers Ann Ayers and Ellen McMillan were inspired to present what they called a “public visual statement” to counteract violence in media. They chose the pinwheel for its relative simplicity and for its function as a recognizable childhood symbol. The idea caught on, with about 4 million pinwheels placed in more than 3,500 locations, according to the project’s website, which provides pinwheel templates and project ideas.

Participating groups are invited to register, and are then tagged geographically in an impressive Google map displaying that the effort to “visualize whirled peace” is widespread.

Kroen, a financial examiner for the state of Oregon by day, was struck by how the project would enable her to teach the ideals of peace to even the youngest students. The project will be open to children from ages 4 to 12 years old from the congregation.

“I think the main thing is, our students start at preschool age and go through elementary,” she said. “They do have a part of this in their everyday life in the way they treat other people. Things like sharing and caring and being kind. All of those things are really basic lessons about being a peacemaker. Listening. Not letting ego get in the way,” which she adds is a lesson she addresses with older children.

“Really, it’s kindness and caring. That’s a lot about peacemaking. There is curriculum available out there and scriptures to go with it.”

Ayers and McMillan chose to time the project so that it always falls on the International Day of Peace, a yearly holiday first dedicated by the United Nations in 1981.

Kroen says the act of decorating, assembling and displaying pinwheels has proven popular among her students in the past.

“They’re always excited to do something outside the box,” she said. “On the Friday before International Day of Peace, the kids put the pinwheels out along the driveway and have a lesson about being peacemakers. And then we take them all down because of the rain.”

During the creation process, Kroen has found it’s best to keep the conversation — and the curriculum — open to the children’s interpretation.

“I think I’m just learning, you do all that you can, and instead of trying to control the classes, you just let it go, and it becomes more than it could be when you control the process,” said Kroen, who has been teaching Sunday school since she was 15. “I guess it’s a lesson I’m learning in my old age. I just let (them) be.”

Kroen admires how the project’s concepts flow with her ideals of the Christian faith, giving kids the opportunity to reflect on peace while being engaged in something hands-on.

And this year, there is an element of roadside advertisement to the pinwheels as well, because Kroen will ask the children to express themselves on the paper before it is folded and tacked down into spin-ready form. This will allow them “to get them to engage in what peacemaking would be, what their message would be to other people about (peace),” Kroen explained. “Or they can draw a picture. It will be what their minds come up with. They’re pretty marvelous people.”

To find out more about the Pinwheels for Peace project, and to view a map of international participants, visit

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