The World Beyond Our Walls – 3 Expert Tips on Nurturing Children to Become Caring, Engaged Citizens
By Sarah Charley , Director of Citizenship at The York School
Encouraging Student Participation in the Community
It’s Monday. After dropping your children off at school, you jump on the streetcar to work.
On the commute home, you grab some vegetables at the fruit stand, and pick your children up. Throughout the day, you have thanked your neighbour, greeted your child’s teacher, and visited your corner grocer. It’s hectic, but everything flows. From teachers and neighbours to public servants and entrepreneurs, you are wrapped in the community fabric.
Immersed in routines, we don’t often reflect on what underpins a community, sometimes taking it for granted. Can the Toronto Public Library help my child build their resume? Who organised the community festival, built the dog park, installed the water fountains? Did this happen spontaneously, or was it planned? It’s good to ponder: Which civic-minded neighbour helped better my community today?
Surrounded by community affecting our everyday lives, why was the youth vote during the recent municipal election so low?
Three experts offer advice to help our children become community minded citizens.
Karen McCallum-Ryan, Junior School Director of Curriculum, The York School
“Let them steer. It is never too early to start. As we grow and learn, we find out more about who we are and where we are in place and time. By asking questions, we discover what kind of community we want to live in and what role we want to play in that community.”
McCallum-Ryan uses a recent student-initiated example in the JK class this year. After inquiring about how other children play, the students realised that not all children had the same number of toys as them.
The next day, on her own initiative, one student brought in a toy to donate. This has snowballed into a classwide toy drive where gently loved playthings were donated to an underserved community.
This sense of social responsibility is encouraged across all grades in a school wide effort to seek out meaningful service-learning opportunities, driven by student interests.
Erika Nikolai, Managing Director, Park People
“Play to their interests and curiosity, and expose them to lots of, often free!, great events in the city. A light show under The Bentway, the holiday markets – there is so much to see and do!
My daughter is really into costumes and theatre, so we recently took her to a play in the park, organised by MABELLEarts. When we gather together in our parks, people are happier, communities are more connected, and cities thrive.”
Adil Dhalla, Executive Director, the Centre for Social Innovation Toronto
“One of the best ways to encourage our young people to become aware and invested in their community is to lead by example.
For this to happen, we need to accept our role and responsibility as teachers, leaders and role models by contributing to community ourselves. When we do this, we communicate that serving community is important and integral.
I noticed this especially during a Farewell Festival we organised for Honest Ed’s last year, which was attended by 15,000 people. So many of those who attended and contributed were young people and when we asked them what led to their involvement, consistently the answer was that they were following the example set by their parents and peers.”
Danish architect Jan Gehl said, “There is one quite reliable indicator for the quality of life in a city: look around and see how many children and old people are out and about.”
We all need to play a role in our neighbourhoods, in order to make our children feel at home and engaged in city life.