Sunday, November 7, 2010

kids and community responsibility

We went to the Humane Society this afternoon, where Boy-o proudly handed over his twenty dollars to "help the animals have a place to live or get fixed when they get hurt." 

For a few months now, we've been collecting and keeping the recyclables that we pay a deposit for.  Initially, L. and I decided to start doing it because it would be another small way to save a bit of money here and there.  But this morning, as we were getting ready to take the bottles and cans to the depot, we hatched a different sort of plan.  We would take the money we got back from our trip to the depot and let Boy-o decide on an organization he would like to donate it to, creating an important lesson (one of many, I hope) about community responsibility and social privilege.

When we explained the plan to Boy-o,  by saying that we were so lucky, that we had each other and our kitties and enough to eat and a warm cozy house full of toys to play with and books to read, but that not everybody was as lucky as we are.  We asked if he thought he'd like to use the money we earned from returning our recyclables to help other people, and he (big hearted child that he is) thought it was a great idea.  Next - how to decide where to give the money for our first homemade bottle-drive donation, without completely overwhelming him...

We narrowed it down to three choices:  We could help people who didn't have enough food to eat or a place to live and donate our money to a homeless shelter; we could help buy stuffed animals for kids that were feeling sad and getting help from Mama's organization (*the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton has a great need for new stuffed animals for kids who are received counselling services at SACE), or we could help animals that needed a place to live or needed to get fixed after being hurt, and give our money to The Humane Society of Edmonton.    Boy-o immediately chose to help animals, and off to the Humane Society we went, his twenty bucks clutched firmly in hand. 

After dropping off the money and checking out the new Humane Society and its super-cute occupants, we headed home.  Boy-o was unusually quiet, so we checked in to see where he was at after the day's activities.  "It made me feel really happy in my heart," he assured us.  "Next time, let's give the money to people who don't have a place to live."  I'd be lying if my heart wasn't working overtime right then at that moment...

Even though today's project was a great success, I am hyper aware that it is a bit of a tricky thing to try and instill ideas about social responsibility in the small set. There is a pretty fine line between not telling kids enough about the world, and telling them too much. While I don't agree with sheltering kids from the fact that there are many things in need of fixing in our world, I also don't think it's right to overwhelm them with too many details about social problems.

Yet, even at the age of three, Boy-o knows peripheral information about various kinds of social problems. For example, he knows that there is too much pollution in our world, and that this hurts the earth. He is aware that some people (and animals) don't have a place to live. He's aware of this fact in large part because he's noticed homeless folks and I'm not prepared to lie about it. He knows that his mommy works in a courtroom with people that sometime use pushing and hitting to try and solve their problems, and he knows his mama volunteers on a crisis line because sometimes people get sad and need someone to talk to - and so on and so forth.

But the slippery slope of him knowing these kinds of things, even in such vague generalities is we run the risk of having kids who are overwhelmed with the immensity of change needed in our world and filled with anxiety.  So we also need to be talking about and demonstrating that there are concrete things we can do to build and rebuild community, to help people in need, to make change where we can.   I hope that this project will be a way to introduce the need for community engagement and also reinforce the idea that we can all do something to help make change, in big or small ways.


  1. I am a friend of Kim Bewick who led me to your blog. My 4 1/2 year old daughter and I also take our bottles and cans back each month and she gets to decide who she would like to help with her money. We have been doing this since she was 2 as well as at the end of the year she gives 20% of her allowance to charity. Because it is near Christmas time she picks to give it to "boys and girls who don't have anything for Christmas." When I feel bad thinking of how I have live paycheque to paycheque, my little monkey's face reminds me at least I have a paycheque and there are so many in my community who don't. I applaud you for your teachings and think it is wonderful there is another little person thinking bigger!

  2. It's a fine line, isn't it? I have a super sensitive boy that cries at anyone else's misfortunes, so I have to walk a fine line when teaching about social responsibilities and community.

    You are doing a great job with your boy-o, I am constantly amazed at the depth he already has at such a young age - he comes out with some amazing comments :)

  3. I think it is a great idea to show how rebuilding works, as well as to let the child know in age appropriate ways (which you do) that others are not so fortunate, etc.

  4. I wish I had been a fly on the wall in order to listen to the conversations! Now the young man could be responsible for putting the recycling in the appropriate bin and for helping take the contents to the recycling station (another example of social responsibility). He might like a little book to record the money he receives. This is a lovely story which deserves to be published in a newspaper.

    I started my family on this important road by making cookies and lemonade together, issuing invitations and having a party on the lawn! The adults gave a donation and the children ( 3 and 5) were so happy to receive a letter from UNICEF thanking them for the $3.60 they had collected! PW
    ($3.60 was a considerable amount of money in l976!)