By Nicole Hume
What if children were at the heart of our city? Could children come up with community solutions? What if Tacoma were a great place to be a child? These questions and many more came up at the “Symposium On Our Youngest Citizen’s: Building A Child-Centered Community.” The September 23rd event was attended by what looked to be about 300 citizens of Tacoma including Mayor Marilyn Stickland, Deputy Superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools – Josh Garcia, and many more movers and shakers in T-town. It appears that the idea for this symposium originated after a visit to Reggio Emilia, Italy. The Children’s Museum of Tacoma recruited 14 Tacomans to visit the area and learn more about their world renowned pre-schools. They came away from the experience not only impressed with the schools but also the city as a whole. From children’s artwork on display throughout the town to children being treated as equals, the community’s respect and regard for young children was evident everywhere. The experience was apparently so profound for the visitors that they felt it worthy of bringing back to us and beginning a conversation on how Tacoma could move in the direction of becoming more child-centered itself.
What does it mean to be a child-centered community? How can a community benefit from this? The answer to the first question is much more complex than just offering kids’ menus and crayons at restaurants. It means making children feel and understand that they are valuable members of the community. It means treating children with respect. It means not trying to control children. It means creating learning environments in which children are allowed to learn through play as this is how children learn best. It means asking them meaningful questions about the challenges our community faces and then listening carefully to their responses and ideas on how to solve them. It means not being afraid to talk to them. It means asking questions about who they are as people rather than what they learned in school that day. It means treating them as you would like to be treated. It means making Tacoma a parent-friendly city. It means having jobs available to parents that allow them to go home in the evening and be able to spend quality time with their kids. It means having jobs available to parents that allow them to take weekends off to spend with their children. It means making paid maternity/paternity leave available to all families. It means a city that can offer good quality affordable childcare when needed. It means offering parenting classes to families. And it means so much more.
The benefits of being a child-centered community are many. If the children’s ideas helped build or make better a city, they will feel a connection with that city. They will be vested in it and therefore want to take care of it. If we treat ALL children with respect (not just our own), then they will treat others with respect and pass this on to their children and others. Creating learning environments based on how children learn best will keep the love of learning alive that all humans are born with. The children will continue to push themselves throughout their lives and therefore push society forward in beneficial ways. Parents with well-paying jobs that have family friendly hours will have more time and patience for their children. Not having to worry about whether they can put food on the table or pay the rent will take a load of stress off the parents and by extension allow them to focus on their children. They will have a greater hand in raising their own children. If they have been to parenting classes they will have tools they can use to help them when their children are going through difficult times. If the children in a city have been raised surrounded by adults who make a point of reaching out to help then doesn’t it make sense that they will trust and want to help people as well?
The conversation on how to make Tacoma a child-centered community is far from over but I believe it is a conversation worth continuing.
For more information on the symposium, Reggio Emilia and other movements, and what is being done in Tacoma, visit the website.