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Creating a Caring Community

The first role defined for teachers of young children in the position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children is “to create a caring community of learners.”

This phrase popped into my mind recently as I contemplated the news story about the father who shot his daughter’s computer because of her (rudely and publicly expressed) complaints about doing her assigned household chores. When I think of words to describe a family, “a caring community” gives a nice image–people of different ages who live communally, bound by love and caring. My understanding of community is that we are all in this together, with each of us deriving benefit from the group, as well as making appropriate contributions.

When a child complains bitterly about having to do household chores, it seems that she has failed to gain this understanding, since members of a community understand their responsibilities that are lovingly undertaken to help one another. Why would this happen? Sometimes parents feel that the definition of their role is to do all the care and maintenance of their children, that this is what a “good” parent would do.

They may underestimate what even very young children can do to help around the house, and decide to postpone such training for later, at which point children may have become habituated to being the privileged drones in the household. Or parents may discover that it is faster and more effective for them to do small tasks themselves, not realizing what intangible benefits children derive from making contributions that they perceive as meaningful.

Possibly parents are so busy that they do not want to take the time to demonstrate the “how to’s” so that children can take responsibility for household chores. And, in the most telling lack of all, there is no communication about the concept of family as community, with parents helping their children understand that when people love each other, daily life is a series of accommodations and compromises. When the conversation deteriorates to bickering over whose job it is, this bigger idea of community is absent. Parents modeling cooperation offer a huge lesson here.

Whatever the reason, important life-lessons are lost when children are not included as contributing members of the family community. Let me list some of these life-lessons.

1. Everyone has a job to do, and taking responsibility for doing it well is important for the good of everybody.

2. Sometimes we have to do things just because they need to be done, not because they are particularly enjoyable (although show me a two- or three-year-old who does not get a kick out of wielding a broom or emptying a waste basket!).

3. There is a feeling of satisfaction in fulfilling a responsibility.

4. Often we get the job done first, and then have time for relaxation and pleasure.

Individuals who have learned these lessons are most likely to succeed in school and later life, in relationships and their chosen work life. Beginning early with household tasks and creating a sense of community is the first step to these helpful attitudes.

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