Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Week of the Young Child: Children Engage with City Hall

The Week of the Young Child - April 13-17, 2015

In the 1970s the National Association for the Education of Young Children designated a week in April as The Week of the Young Child to bring awareness to issues related to early childhood education and care.  While schools and centers focus on school/classroom activities, it is also a week for community activism and advocacy - and that is what we will be doing here in Somerville on Tuesday, April 14 from 10-11.  Children, teachers, families, and local dignitaries will meet at 10:00 a.m. in the aldermanic chamber at City Hall.

Here is what will happen:
  • Mayor Joseph Curtatone will read a proclamation advocating for children, families, and teachers.
  • Nancy Carlsson-Paige (Somerville resident, Lesley professor, and activist) will say a few words of inspiration related to children's civic engagement.
  • Students from Somerville High School's child development program will share their work on children's rights from their study of the UNICEF Rights of the Child movement.
  • Everyone will sing with Maura Mendoza, a family liaison whose Music Mondays were featured in this blog in the fall.
Then children can:
  • Tour city hall.
  • Visit offices featured in a social story written especially for this event.
  • Vote on their favorite thing to do outdoors.
  • Create a tiny art project that will become part of a larger installation at city hall - courtesy of Marina Seevak and The Beautiful Stuff Project.
"Ballots" for voting

Learning about City Hall

A book, Somerville: Working Together for a Wonderful City, will be available to all early childhood classrooms in the city. This book, a social story, was created by members of the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative and introduces children to Somerville's City Hall, what work goes on there, and to real people who work there.  It also presents the idea of voting as a way to participate in city-wide decisions.  A lesson plan and bibliography (scroll to the bottom of this link for pdfs and google translate) accompanies the story so teachers can preview and extend the learning at their sites.

The event at City Hall on April 14th is both simple and complex - bring children and families to city hall to visit and see how things work.  Easy enough. But as is often the case, the idea of having very young children visit a place of city business can raise more complex questions.

Why would children visit city hall? Aren't they too little to come to a place of government? How can we make the experience relevant to children?  What can we learn from the children who visit?

In the aftermath of WWII, Loris Malaguzzi, a citizen from Reggio Emilia, Italy, rode his bicycle to the outskirts of town where people were rebuilding their schools, brick by brick.  He was so struck by these efforts that he became a leader of this movement, bringing children regularly to city hall to make sure that people did not forget that the children were the hope for the rejuvination of the town, and that as citizens, they needed municipal support to grow, thrive, and contribute.  His efforts evolved into what is now known as the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education. The article, Engaging City Hall: Children as Citizens, is inspirational and a resource for action you might take.

Sadly, support for early childhood programs is not necessarily a given in the current fiscal climate where there are many competing needs.  We must continue to remind leaders that parents of young children are a large voting block, and that serving children well is the hallmark of a healthy city. Engaging state and local leaders in conversations about children and families is crucial to sustaining initiatives that benefit families and all who live in our community.

Things you can do even if you can't join us on the 14th:
  • Write a letter to the mayor, board of alderman (city council), or your school committee. Tell them what makes our city work and what would make it even better.
  • Read books about civic engagement with young children.
  • Make sure your children know their city, take walks and share the history of your area - study the buildings, the parks, the neighborhoods.
  • Have children write stories about their town and what is important to them.
  • Make art and display it in your classroom or in the community (local businesses) with accompanying text or photographs about the work.
  • Modify the lesson plan for your own field trip somewhere in the city. 
  • Engage with various advocacy groups to learn more about current efforts:

We hope you can join us on the 14th or celebrate the Week of the Young Child in your own way.
Contact Somerville Family Learning Collaborative 617-625-6600 x 6966 or the Director of Early Education, 617-625-6600 x 3656 for more information.