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As a child development specialist (among the many other hats that I wear) one of my fascinations is concept formation — how children understand big and deep concepts like justice, ethics, equality and yes even community.

I remember when I was teaching preschoolers, our first core themes revolve around the self, the family and then their community. 3,4 and 5 year olds were given activities to learn about the different people around them, what they do and how they contribute. We had field trips to the fire station, the supermarket, the post office- places where young children can experience community.

Fast forward to elementary, children are exposed to different societal themes and what is going on in society. They see it in their text books, videos, class discussions and here in the Netherlands, grade schoolers even have their “jeugdjournal”, the news agency for children. Yet, there is a component in all these efforts that is missing. I see all these classroom discussions as theoretical and lack the hands-on experiences that can expand their understanding of what community (or any other concept) is all about.

Our schools are failing our children to experience community in a deeper level. It’s not offering opportunities for kids to see, hear and feel what is going on in society.

How can we truly teach children to be involved, to contribute, to make a change when they are distanced from reality? When they are bystanders and not active participants?

I remember what my 10 year old son told me last Saturday night when we were at the Stoelenproject / Koken in een andere keuken (an initiative that encourages people to cook for the homeless), he said “it’s so sad to have so many people not have a place for them to sleep and live in.” My reply “and this is why we do what we’ve been doing for the past 4 years- to contribute in as much as we can to change things or help alleviate it.”

He looked at me and with a firm stance he said “yes that’s what I’ll keep on doing!”

As a mother, an educator and a community builder my big hope is that we can include letting children “experience community” as part of our parenting, as part of our school curriculum and as part of our services for children.

Let’s not distance them from what is going on in society and help them find ways where they can contribute, support and experience being a integral part of the community.

P.S. If this work inspires you, check out their website to see how you can contribute

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