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The question of introducing social awareness to kids came up recently in a Facebook group I'm in, and I surprised myself with our efforts once I thought about it. I thought I'd share it here for everyone to read, and add your own ideas for us please. Our children are almost 6 and 3.
Social awareness is a big deal for us, in tandem with learning gratitude for what we have, and helping others when we can. There is no labelled "class system" in Ireland, though obviously it exists, and we are conscious of treating all people equally and with respect. Though my husband and I grew up in racist, insular Ireland, our children are luckily growing up in a more multicultural society, and we make sure to celebrate that with them wherever possible. We shop in ethnic stores, learn about the diverse communities living in Dublin, go to their festivals and enjoy trying new food and music.
Dublin city is a fantastic lesson in social awareness on our doorstep. We always give money to homeless people on the street and exchange a few greetings. The last time we walked through the city it threw up loads of questions for my eldest son and I ended up explaining addiction, gambling and vicious circles to him (obviously in a relevant way for him to understand). We don't have much spare money but I figure if I can afford a coffee I can just as easily give that money to someone who needs it more, and I explain that to my son.
My husband did some work with St. Vincent de Paul last year in a homeless shelter and we used to collect him from work and have little chats about it all with our son. We also visit our elderly neighbour, offer to shop for her frequently and make sure to say hi to people in the street. I don't teach Stranger Danger (see my previous post about it here), I teach my kids that the world is a good place and people are essentially good. I want them to feel safe and supported walking down the street, not paranoid that everyone is out to attack/rob them.
We go to local Christmas fairs held in a senior citizens centre and community centres/schools, also buy a lot of our furniture, books, household goods and toys in charity shops. At least 3-4 times a year (usually after birthdays and Christmas) we bag up unwanted toys/clothes and household items and donate to either a charity shop or to the women's refuge.
A couple of local historical sites have renovation projects ongoing and we visit there and talk to the workers, it was there we were introduced to organic gardening and combination planting. A couple of times a year we visit a dog pound and talk about responsibility and pet the cute dogs.
At home we recycle, compost, grow our own vegetables and fruits, upcycle objects and clothes, we don't waste food or money. We shop locally and walk to the shops whenever we can. Our sons are learning where their food comes from, we read labels as we shop and talk air miles and eating seasonally. We talk about pesticides and organic farming. We talk animal welfare and choose free range eggs always and meat where possible. There is no big "sit down, we're going to read about GMO today", it all happens naturally as we go about our business of shopping, preparing and eating our food. We also enjoy treats and don't stress when a few meals are heavily processed/unhealthy, we just make up for it later at another mealtime.
Ireland is preparing for local elections and the candidates posters are on every lamppost. Our eldest understands how elections work, and the power that the government have (and some of the mistakes they've made). We discuss the recession, the economy, politics and capitalism. My son through all his questions recently has learned how canvassers work, and spent an evening roleplaying a canvasser and telling us his proposals for improving the locality!
Social awareness for us is an everyday thing, we really feel part of our local community and want to educate our sons about the world around us. We feel a responsibility to make the world a better place, and instil values in our sons about community, the environment, health and exercise. We want to give them tools to be happy and healthy going ahead into their futures. As we're home educating we put a lot of time and effort into making these community interactions happen. We are lucky to know a diverse range of people, and go to visit them at their jobs where possible. People are surprisingly helpful in answering questions my kids have, whether it's the council worker putting pipes in, the tv repair people, chefs, shopkeepers etc. We stop and chat and ask questions and are constantly learning about people and how the world works.
I would love to volunteer, I intend on doing that once the kids are old enough to come along or mind themselves! I think you reap what you sow in all areas of life, and I'm really interested in the idea of self-sustaining communities. I think the days of nuclear families working in the rat race to pay for lifestyles they don't get time to enjoy is coming to an end. I'd love in the future to move to a "Farm"-like setting (Ina May Gaskin's commune in Tennessee) where everyone works for the common good. A self-sustaining community where home births are not a big deal, kids learn and play alongside their parents, and there's a real sense of practical support for young families. That's my dream, what's yours?!