Students Learn while Folding Peace Cranes

In the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11th, I knew, as a librarian in a Quaker lower school, that I needed to do something different with the children. At first I didn’t know how to strike a balance between acknowledging the disturbing and frightening facts, while at the same time providing our children with a sense of safety and security. One week after the attack, I remembered the very moving book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr. The story inspired me and gave me a direction in which to move with the children.

In this true story, a 12-year-old Japanese child who survived the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima begins to fold 1000 origami paper cranes. According to Japanese legend, if you fold 1000 paper cranes, you can make a wish. Sadako was ill from the effects of the bombing of Hiroshima. She hoped that folding 1000 cranes would bring her health back. She bravely folded 644 before dying from leukemia. Her friends, classmates, and family worked together to finish Sadako’s cranes by folding the remaining 356. The 1000 paper cranes were buried with Sadako. School children all over Japan heard about Sadako’s story and were inspired by her bravery and her belief in the healing power of the 1000 cranes. They wanted to create a monument to Sadako and other children who were killed by the bomb. Japanese children wrote letters to share Sadako’s story and to raise money for a monument. In 1958, their dream became a reality; a statue of Sadako holding a golden crane in outstretched arms was erected in the Hiroshima Peace Park. Each year on Peace Day, children hang strings of paper cranes under Sadako’s statue. On the base of her statue is this inscription: "This is our cry, this is our prayer: Peace in the world."

Since Sadako’s time, folding 1000 origami cranes has become a wish or prayer for world peace. Our origami crane project grew out of a message I gave at our lower school meeting for worship. After I told the story of Sadako, I invited children to learn to fold the crane and to work together as a community to complete 1000. I told the children that our wish or prayer would be for world peace.

Before they learn the steps to fold the peace crane, students are asked to reflect on their own personal prayers for world peace. Some children want to resolve a peace issue in their family or on the playground; others have a peace issue to contemplate inside of themselves; some have more global concerns regarding Afghan refugees or families affected by the disasters in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. They are invited to write or draw their personal prayer on the uncolored side of the origami paper. When the child folds the crane, the personal prayer is hidden in the heart of the crane, invisible but powerful.

Crane folding is a meditative, repetitive process that brings inner peace and satisfaction to many children and adults. I began the project by teaching children and teachers in the oldest grades to fold the crane. They became experienced folders who could help partners in lower grades have success with the sometimes difficult folding. Certain children have become expert crane folders. There are mornings when I open the library and find a small box or bag full of cranes that a student has donated to the project. I have heard about children teaching siblings and parents to fold the crane. I have seen small, spontaneous crane folding groups gather after school in the library. Experienced folders work closely with other children, patiently and joyfully teaching the 28 crane folding steps.

Children have asked me, "What are we going to do with the cranes once we have reached our goal of 1000?" I have learned that the answer to this question, and what we eventually "do" with the cranes is not what is most important. What touches me deeply about folding peace cranes is that as individuals and as a community, we are experiencing the peace process as we make the journey toward our 1000-crane goal. The peace crane project has helped people learn something about taking time to be peaceful together and reflecting on what "world peace" really means. As of this writing, there are 575 peace prayer cranes hanging in garlands from the ceiling of the Penn Charter lower school library.