In 1996, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago about what mattered most in her life and in the lives of others – children and their families. Clinton said, “Families are part of a larger community that can help or hurt our best efforts to raise our child.”
In cities, villages, and communities across America there are boys and girls who have no specific person to call “Mom” or “Dad.” These same children have no place to call home. While trying to support the family, some parents handle two or three jobs, or worry about who will take care of their sick child when they are at work. Gang members and drug dealers influence many communities, and parents question the popular culture that glamorizes sex and violence. But while these concerns are evident in today’s families, there are dedicated teachers who are making a difference in the lives of children. Police officers and other community workers educate children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. The medical profession spends countless hours trying to eradicate disease and treat sick children. And volunteers provide hundreds of hours in after-school programs to help children scoring below the academic norm.
Yes, it’s the parents’ responsibility to care for their child. However, I believe, like many others, that it takes the community to provide the best environment for nurturing the individual. Communities that encourage involvement from different professions offer learning opportunities for all children. There are numerous ways we can join together to provide the best possible childhood for today’s children. The following ideas are only a few of the ways child care programs can interact with the community, parents, and extended family members. As a safety precaution, all visitors to your facility should register when entering your building.
Even in less populated areas, most communities have agencies that will serve as resource when planning community involvement activities. There are a variety of ways you can involve your child care program with the people and resources in your community. For example:
· Request a visit by a police officer. Talk to children about how police officers are their friends and they are available if a dangerous situation should arise.
· Schedule a visit with a firefighter, either transport children to the fire station or invite a firefighter to your center. Provide basic information on fire safety. Explain the various tools and equipment carried on the fire truck.
· Visit the local library. Point out the area assigned to children’s books. Ask the librarian to explain the process of checking out materials. Encourage parents to request a library card for their child and plan regular trips to promote reading.
· Is a farm located near by? A visit to a farm teaches children how seeds grow into plants and how plants become food for both people and animals. Learning the names of animals and their babies becomes a concrete experience.
Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher. Child care facilities may offer parenting classes, which provide activities that promote social, emotional, and mental development.
· One mother describes an activity that fosters community service. Five-year-old Alan and his mother pull a wagon down the sidewalk each Saturday morning. His mother says, “At home we talk about ways our family could contribute to the needs of other nationalities in our city who are living in poverty. Alan decided to collect old newspapers and sell them to a recycling plant. The few dollars he makes each month helps purchase food for a community soup kitchen.” Today, parents must realize the importance of teaching children to love and respect other people.
· Researchers believe that children learn best through hands-on activities. Use the five senses, which includes seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching to teach children about understanding cultural differences. Seeing is one of the easiest ways to make children aware of their surroundings. “When our children were young,” states Jim, “we organized a trip to Australia. For the next five years, the children did odd jobs to earn extra money and put the money in a savings account. By the time the children reached their teens, we had enough to make the trip.” Traveling gives children the opportunity to see other cultures. If you can’t make a personal visit, read books about children from another country. Hang a map in your child’s room. Listen to world news and pinpoint the event.
· Ask for volunteers for your program. Do you need an extra pair of hands for a craft project? What about another person for an off-site field trip?
· Make a list of “needs” parents can accomplish during a fundraiser.
· Assign a volunteer to help with a child who has special needs. A child with special needs requires trained personnel. However, “all” children need a person who is able to give unconditional love.
· Plan classes for non-English speaking parents or those who use English as a second language.
Grandparents and the Extended Family Involvement
According to American Association of Retired Persons, 4.5 million children under the age of 18 are growing up in grandparent-headed households, and in one-third of these homes no parent is present. This figure has increased 30 percent since 1990 and the ethnicity crosses all lines.
Today people live longer, healthier lives. But the need to give and receive love is a basic need of seniors. Grandparents and the extended family can be an asset to your program. Try a few of the following ideas in your program:
· September has been designated as “Grandparents” Month.” Plan a special event in your program to honor all grandparents. Help each child make a small favor or drawing to present during this time. Serve cookies and fruit punch, allowing children to act as host.
· Set up a reading center for grandparents. Place a comfortable rocking chair for the guest and floor seating for children.
· Ask a senior adult to teach a lesson in something from the past, such as making butter by shaking cream in a jar; dyeing cloth from tree bark; making home-made ice cream in a freezer turned by hand; making biscuits and other projects unknown to children.
When children are raised by loving caring parents, share an extended family and grandparents, and have opportunities to learn from others in the community – they have the best childhood has to offer.
Carolyn R. Tomlin, Jackson, TN, has taught early childhood education at Union University. She is the author of Teachers as Published Writers: A Manual for Educational Publishing, available toll free at 1-888-280-7715 or www.1stbooks.com.