Benefits of Community Involvement in Early Childhood
Community involvement is beneficial in all areas of life. We see the impact it has in the work force and company culture, in schools, towns, and small businesses around the world. Perhaps, one of the greatest examples of the profound and inspiring ways that it impacts our society, is when we look at the benefits of community involvement in early childhood.
Children grow emotionally, intellectually, and physically through both their relationships and through their community. They might find this community in school or at home, on the playground, or in the backyard.
For children, community involvement and engagement produces long-term benefits in their lives. It gives them a sense of belonging and is crucial to the building of their identity.
The National Education Association states that the popular proverb, it takes a village to raise a child, produces a clear message and that is, “the whole community has an essential role to play in the growth and development of its young people.” It’s noted that parents and family members play a vital role in the life of the child and so, too, does the entire community as a whole.
To experience the benefits of community involvement, we must first look at creating the community. From there, the relationships are built and the self-esteem and happiness of the child is given a foundation to flourish and succeed.
Community involvement sends a powerful message to children. It’s one that says you are important. You are loved. You belong. And it’s a message that, with it, holds the strength to empower every child in the world.
Creating a Community
Community is defined as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” For children, a sense of community brings connection both to their surroundings and the individuals in those surroundings — further connecting them to their own unique place in the world.
Let’s think about one of the most simple, yet simultaneously complex, community builders: sound.
Babies enter the world born as natural listeners. They’re accustomed to the loud noises occurring around them in the womb. They can hear everything from the beating of their mother’s heart to the soothing nature of her voice. According to parenting.com, babies in utero are getting their first lessons in native language and are beginning to “[pick] up on the rhythm and melody of the speech.”
As they grow, children are introduced to a wide assortment of other sounds: the honking of cars, the noises of their siblings, the drip of the bathtub or the sink, the lullabies of their family members. Many young children, collectively, take interest in another profound sound: music.
Soundscape and music, at its core, can be one of the most universal ways to create community among young children. Playthings.com discusses that although early childhood teachers are intentional in creating children’s physical environments, we often overlook the soundscape. “First,” they state, “we need to envision sound as a learning domain.” Like touch and smell, sound is just as pivotal to a young child’s development and their place in the community.
“Second,” they say, “we must build confidence to present sound and music so we can support the learning.” The article further discusses the importance of the adult community as facilitators to help children make their discoveries.
Whether in music or otherwise (reading, painting, nature walks, eating new foods) inspiring the thirst of discovery among children and bringing them together as a community for a common experience allows them to bond and solidifies their sense of belonging and identity.
Children grow in the context of their community. As they develop within their smaller community environments (a music circle, an art class, a reading corner) they begin to understand the wider society as a whole — what actions work and do not work, what values, sensitivities, and longings we share. The creation of a local community in early childhood becomes the supportive, positive, uplifting foundation of a child’s life. It helps them to learn about themselves. It helps them learn how to tackle challenges, build knowledge, and thrive.
Within communities, children are gifted the opportunity to build relationships that support their emotional and physical development and help them to succeed in life.
The beauty of participating in the creation of a community is that these events and experiences eventually lead to the building of profound relationships. These relationships must become part of the child’s everyday experience and must be nurtured consistently over time.
For children, these relationships can be vastly different and influential in their own unique ways. Perhaps for some, it’s a grandparent whose home they venture to a few times a week while a parent is at work. In that relationship, they begin to appreciate and acknowledge a slower pace of life. They might take a watering can to the garden and spend the afternoon tending to strawberries and tomatoes. They might spend the morning baking cookies in the kitchen, learning how to measure the flour and sugar and finding patience in the process of baking.
Maybe it’s a resource parent whom a foster child bonds with over their mutual love for beautifully illustrated fairy tales or the different colored leaves as they play outside. It could be an older mentor, who takes them out to the basketball court every morning so they can shoot hoops and experience their own growth and development as each day, they improve a bit more than the day before. These relationships are generational and in them, children begin to discover the differences between the relationships — what is a grandparent, what is a brother, what is an uncle, a cousin, a friend? And how do these relationships relate to their own identity?
In an article for The Center on Evidence Based Practices for Early Learning at the University of Colorado at Denver, Gail E. Joseph, Ph.D., & Phillip S. Strain, Ph.D. state, “Building positive relationships with young children is an essential task and a foundational component of good teaching.” Children grow, they say, in the context of close and dependable relationships — relationships that provide love, security, nurturance, and responsive interactions.
With these types of relationships, children are more readily able to understand and cooperate. Though, like a young seedling, adults must invest time, attention, and patience to the budding relationships.
“In order for adults to build meaningful positive relationships with children,” Joseph and Strain write, “it is essential to gain a thorough understanding of children’s preferences, interests, background, and culture.”
What’s incredible about the child and adult relationship — is that these preferences, interests, backgrounds, and cultures need not be the same. Often, as adults, we gravitate towards individuals with similar interests. Does she like surfing? Does he practice yoga? Are they interested in Italian food, like I am, or are do they prefer Indian food?
Children are innately curious. They’re on a constant quest to discover new information and new play. They want to know where the deepest ocean is, how the bread rises like that in the oven, why their eyes might be a different color than your own. They’re fascinated by our differences.
Positive relationship development and the building of trust can be a long process. Like Joseph and Strain say, it’s similar to making deposits into a piggy bank. When caregivers and teachers work to build the relationship, it’s as though they are “making a deposit” into the child’s relationship piggy bank. When the adults “make demands, nag, or criticize children, it is as if they are making a relationship withdrawal.”
Depending on the child’s past experience with their relationship piggy bank, they may need more or less positive deposits in order to build the foundation of trust and love. And if this is the case, if a child has had more ‘negative’ deposits than ‘positive’ deposits, adults may find that these children act out more. They might be disruptive, aggressive, and difficult to deal with which may cause us to get angry, nag, or raise our voices.
But, as the authors articulate, “the very children we find the most difficult to build relationships with are the ones who need positive relationships with adults the most.”
It’s true that building relationships will be simple with some children and difficult with others. It takes consistent commitment and a whole lot of love. But luckily, for adults, it’s incredibly gratifying. It allows us, in our own way, to learn and grow through high fives, games, hugs, stories, conversations, and acknowledgment and appreciation for one another.
For children, building relationships with others become prominent to the relationship they build with themselves. It should be filled with understanding, love, and trust.
Children with high self-esteem and a positive self-image feel capable, accepted, and encouraged. Parents.com states that, “a positive sense of self is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child” and helps them “develop into happy, productive people.”
At the community level — whether we are a mentor, a teacher, a parent, an aunt, a godparent, an adoptive parent, a sibling — we are given the opportunity to boost a child’s self-esteem and help prepare them for a successful and invigorating path ahead.
“Do give them choices,” author Kristen Finello of parents.com further writes.” Choices help children feel empowered. At breakfast, let them choose between eggs, pancakes, french toast, or yogurt. By implementing the power of decision making early on, children will be more able and prepared to face more difficult choices down the road.
“Don’t do everything for her,” she writes. Be patient and allow the child to figure things out on their own. This can be as simple as letting them tie their shoes. Sure — it may take longer to get to get the shoes tied and get out the door. But if you have the time, let them meet the challenge, learn the skill, and grow from it.
“Do let him know no one is perfect,” Finello states. This is advice that is applicable for everyone and should be proclaimed from the rooftops to kids and adults alike. No one is perfect. And no one expects anyone else to be perfect, either. We all make mistakes. We all learn. We all grow. In fact, that’s one of life’s greatest pleasures, watching ourselves change and become who we want to be. When a child makes a mistake, try not to react with disappointment. Instead ask, how can I help them grow from this?
When kids feel both accepted and understood from adults, they begin to accept themselves, too. This positive reinforcement transfers over into their behaviors and can produce a lifetime of happiness and strength in mental health. There is an incredibly strong correlation between how children feel about themselves and how they act — so, too, for the adult. Therefore, if we approach ourselves and our community with confidence, we are better equipped to instill this same sort of confidence within children.
Whether you’re approaching your own connection to community involvement and the development of children from the point of view of a parent, a guardian, a friend, a grandparent, a teacher — every point of connection makes a difference. Every dot that is connected leads us to a stronger, healthier, happier, and more well-rounded society as a whole. Every positive impact that is made on the playground, in the garden, at school, at the community center, leads to a change and an influence over our entire society.
If we put in work, and the heart, at the community level for our children, we’re working to give them the foundation for a better future. Children are gifted the opportunity to learn, grow, and achieve greatness and happiness through their community.
Let’s work together to unify, engage, and build these connections around the entire world — one community, one child, at a time.