This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills described a century old schoolhouse which adjoins her property. She is hoping that someone will buy it and make it a meeting place for the community, recognising the role it had to play in the education of generations past as well as its contribution to the history of the area. Her thoughts about the schoolhouse led her to thinking of community engagement and neighbourly relationships which, in turn, inspired her flash fiction challenge for this week, to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about nurturing a neighborly relationship.
I would have loved the little schoolhouse at Elmira Pond as the base for the alternative school I hoped to establish at the end of last century. The schoolhouse has a nice community feel to it, unlike many of the large brick, concrete jungle-type schools into which one can almost dissolve in a sea of sameness. Charli’s schoolhouse/community centre would also be a great meeting place for parents with their young children; a friendly early learning centre for both.
Based on my beliefs that:
- parents are a child’s first and most important teachers;
- the most important years of a child’s development are the years before school;
- children who enter school with rich vocabularies, an interest in the world around them, and a love of books are primed to succeed;
- children without those experiences are disadvantaged in their learning right from the start and face an enormous challenge in catching up;
- waiting until children enter school is too late;
- the best way to minimise or eliminate the disadvantage is by educating parents through programs that model effective parenting behaviours and support them in their interactions with their children;
- parenting programs offering those types of support would be most effective if begun before birth of the children and continued at least until the child enters school, maybe beyond;
- most parents want to do the best for their children, many just don’t know how to go about it.
There are any number of birthing classes, but not many that aim to support parents in nurturing their child’s development. In my opinion, investing time and money into developing programs such as these would have enormous benefit, not only to individual children and their parents, but to society as a whole.
I am not talking about programs that place children of increasingly (or should that be decreasingly) younger years into structured and formal “teaching and learning” situations. I am not talking about one-off talks or series of lectures to parents.
Many of the parents of children who begin school with the types of disadvantage I have mentioned are themselves products of similar disadvantage. In a previous post I discussed the roles of “nature” and “nurture” in a child’s development. In these cases especially, it can be difficult to tease out the differences. Many of these parents would not have positive feelings towards schools or any other public institution and may feel threatened, or reluctant for other reasons, to attend sessions in public halls or government offices.
What I am talking about is a program that:
- goes to the parents and children in their neighbourhoods, meeting in a local park or community greenspace, on regular weekly occasions;
- invites parents to talk with, read to and play with their children using provided books, games and toys;
- models positive parenting behaviour, explaining to parents the benefits to their children of engaging with them in activities and discussions;
- provides suggestions for inexpensive and easy activities to do at home;
- encourages borrowing from a book and toy library.
I envision the program being delivered by an early children trained educator who is sympathetic to the situations and demands of people from diverse backgrounds, who is warm and supportive with good interpersonal skills with both adults and children, who drives a mobile early learning centre fully-equipped with books, toys, games, paper, pens and craft materials, including items for borrowing and distribution for activities to be done at home.
I see the centre as a brightly painted caravan with doors that open wide to display a colourful and engaging assortment of resources to delight the interests and eyes of young children and their parents. As the caravan travels into each neighbourhood it would play music to signal its arrival (think of the old icecream vans!) inviting parents and children to come, investigate, and join in.
Thinking about the excitement that such a program may stimulate in a neighbourhood, and the sense of community and belonging it may encourage, led me to write about it for my response to Charli’s prompt.
I hope you enjoy it.
Children waited anxiously at windows and front garden fences.
Mothers and fathers hurried to complete the last of their chores.
Others, already at the park, were unable to wait.
Ears strained, listening for music signalling, “It’s time!
Suddenly “Girls and boys come out to play!” announced the arrival of the brightly painted caravan.
“Come on!” urged children, tugging at skirts, trousers and hairy legs.
“Come on!” chimed parents, downing cloths and brooms. Clasping small hands they whisked them out.
Everyone watched as the doors of the caravan opened; ready for fun: stories, games and much to explore!
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.