Our local areas and community are likely to play a much bigger role in our future resilience, so it makes sense to begin to include active community participation in our children’s lives. Children often enjoy having a sense of being an important part of something that matters and even young children can develop a feeling of ‘ownership’ in their particular part of a project. When children feel vitally involved they will take much more of an interest and be open to taking on board new ideas and skills that will be invaluable to them in the future.
There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Community is a really great educational vehicle — after all, it’s the way young people learned their life skills in past times. We can once again make it a part of the way we prepare our children for times to come.
Below are some ideas for ways children can begin to get involved with developing greater community spirit in their neighbourhood.
How ‘Local’ Are We Living?
To help children understand the concept of localisation, it might first be of benefit to let them research their current lives and find out how much of what they buy and consume currently comes from local sources, and how much comes from further afield — and how far! Here are some things to explore:
- Make an inventory of your main household possessions. Can you find out where they came from (place of origin, not just where you bought them from)? Were any of them local, and if so, how local? Just from the same country, or your state, or do any of them come right from your local area? For those things that aren’t local, how far did they have to travel to reach your home? By what method/s were they transported? What resources might have been used in transporting them? Think beyond the obvious….
- If you were replacing an item, can you find any more local sources for the item? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this product? Would you choose to buy this local item over the imported item, once all pros and cons are considered? Why or why not? If not, what ways can you think of that would make the local item more likely to be the one you would choose?
- Could you create any of these items very locally by making them yourself, or asking a family member or friend to help? Is anyone in your community handy at these skills? Or could you really do without?
- Now it’s time to go on a food hunt! Go through your food cupboards, fridge, freezer, etc., and note down where each item comes from, if possible. What percentage of your food is made or grown locally? In the same state? Same country? How much is brought in from overseas? How far has your food travelled, from its source to your table? This distance is known as ‘food miles’. How has your food been transported across its food miles? What resources would have been used?
- With locally produced food, can you find out where the ingredients used to make those foods came from? Are they local? If not, could they be?
- Visit nearby shopping areas, such as supermarkets, markets, produce markets, etc. Take a list of common foods you buy and see how many of them you can locate locally produced versions of. For instance, can you find more locally grown fruit and veg at a produce market than at the supermarket? Do you have local choices for any of the packaged food you buy? Can you replace any packaged foods with fresh ones, obtained more locally?
- What are some of the problems with transporting food long distances? What problems might increase or develop in future times of continuing resource depletion? What ways can you think of to protect ourselves from the possibility of these foods no longer being able to be viably transported long distances — to create our own local food security?
- What about considering where you shop for all kinds of products and services — are you supporting your local small businesses? To become more resilient a community needs a good variety of resources available locally, and for those businesses to stay viable they need community support.
Get to Know Your Local Community
How well does your family know the people who live and work in your area? Do you know who lives across the street from you — or even next door? In the past, neighbours often all knew each other and socialised, but in recent decades, much of this community interconnectedness has been lost, due to busy lives and other things that tend to steal time, such as TV and computers. Make it a project to introduce yourselves to the people who live nearby. Offer to help them out — for instance, you could volunteer to water their garden or bring in their mail if they are going on holiday. Spend time in your front yards on nice evenings and say hi to anyone who walks by. Go for a walk each evening, or walk rather than drive to your local shops, and make an effort to say a friendly "hi" to others out walking, or those out in their front yards.
When your family goes shopping, call in to your local small shops and introduce yourselves to the shopkeepers and staff that work there. Give Christmas cards or small surprises (such as a jar of your home made jam) to people you appreciate in your local area.
What about inviting neighbours to go in on bulk purchases of food items, especially locally grown or produced products. You can all save money as well as support your local producers.
Organise fun community events such as movie nights (you could choose related movies such as those with an environmental or community theme), host interesting guest speakers, and community theatre events such as plays or musical showcases put on by local children or others. Your kids can help stage the events, make promotional posters and make and distribute flyers.
Invite neighbourhood families to a relaxing evening at your house. Have a barbecue or a movie night, or a shared meal where you each showcase the cuisine of your cultural heritage. Let the kids make invitations and help prepare the food and other preparations.
Is there somewhere that you and your kids could help establish a place where local community members recognise where their fellow neighbours regularly hang out? Just somewhere informal, where people can chat and bounce ideas off each other and where new people can meet with their new neighbours. The venue should be somewhere that is kid friendly, as creating community means welcoming neighbours, both big and small. It could be somewhere like a café or local park, or a room in the community centre. Choice will depend on the people you expect to be involved and how freely you want to be able to come and go.
You could have themes each week or month such as informal games, recipe shares, seed swaps, barbecues, sing-a-longs — even a campfire circle if the venue is suitable.
One of the fun ways kids can help increase local food security is by setting up their own produce exchange. This may just be very small — they grow food and offer excess to neighbours, who may then offer their excess, though with no expectation or tally kept. This kind of thing will often grow, as the concept spreads by word of mouth.
It could also be done in a more organised manner, where your children make up flyers for their street or further afield, with an invitation to take part in exchanging excess produce with neighbours. Arrangements could either then be made individually between neighbours on the list, or a fun alternative is to have a day — maybe weekly or fortnightly — during the busier harvest times, when anyone with food to swap can bring it along to a local park, or someone’s front yard, and then exchange with others.
They could also swap food they have preserved from what they grew, or excess obtained from a neighbour, such as canned or dried fruit and veg, and jams.
Your community may already have a regular produce swap meet, so getting involved with this could also be an option.
Neighbourhood Fair or Swap Meet
Similar to the idea above, but expanded to include anything anyone wants to ‘re-home’ such as clothes, furniture, household items, books, crafts, fresh produce, preserved food, plants, seeds, etc.
Your children could also organise some entertainment (get the other neighbourhood kids involved) such as singing, musical showcases, short plays, games, etc. Are there any local community members who have useful entertainment skills?
Maybe your children could just start small, with a table of giveaways in your front yard, or organise with a few close neighbours. This then might grow over time to more and more people becoming involved. It could also be more officially organised, with flyers, notes on notice boards, etc., inviting people to get involved.
Street Party or Community Potluck
Hold a get-together for your street in a local park — or see if you can get permission to close off the street to traffic, and hold the event there. (Street closure can be difficult to get approved, although if you live in a no through road or cul-de-sac, and all the residents are happy for it to go ahead, you may have success.)
Get the kids to make colourful posters and flyers promoting the event. (Check if you need permission to put posters up locally.)
Ask everyone to bring along food to share — a good opportunity for people to showcase their home grown produce and favourite recipes. Tables, hopefully obtained by community members, can be set up at various locations, and the food laid out — maybe separated into different categories, such as snacks, mains, desserts, etc. People then make their way from spot to spot, eating food, and having a chance to talk to others as they go.
Once again, entertainment could be organised. ‘Busking’ (no money involved) type of roaming entertainers may be particularly suitable for this kind of event. Find out if any neighbourhood kids are good at playing instruments, such as guitar, violins, trumpets, battery keyboards, etc, or if they might like to sing along with someone who can play. Of course, the adults can take part too, but as it’s the kids’ event, the more they can be involved the better.
Note: Be aware that any event organised in a public area, such as a park, or even a large event in your street that may involve disruption to other people using the area (such as access, parking, noise) and thus may need council approval.
Also, always keep safety in mind. Supervise your children appropriately, especially when the ideas involve being out in the community.
Celebrate Significant Days
Get your local community involved in celebrations for special days. Let your children help organise events, promotions and entertainment to fit the theme — or whatever the occasion warrants — and encourage anyone who may have a special related interest or skill to take part. Bringing community together to honour these themes helps strengthen its bond, as people work together for a common purpose. There’s also a lot of opportunity for fun! Some significant days that might be worth considering are:
- International Women’s Day
- Harmony Day
- Earth Hour/ Earth Day
- World Heritage Day
- Pay it Forward Day
- International Composting Awareness Day
- International Day for Biological Diversity
- World Environment Day
- National Tree Day
- Keep Australia Beautiful Week
- Threatened Species Day
- Sustainable House Day
- World Car Free Day
Also possibly worth considering are community events for charitable purposes (in Australia) such as Red Nose Day, Daffodil Day, Biggest Morning Tea, World’s Greatest Shave, etc. I’m sure your children would have a lot of fun organising some of those! (Hide the dog in case they decide to shave it, or turn it into a red nose reindeer!)
A great way for children to take part in building community resilience is by getting involved in a community garden. There is possibly already one or more operating in your area, so check for a community garden directory for your state, or ask your local council.
Most community gardens have weekly (or more often) working bees in which community members are welcome to participate. Some community gardens have individually allocated plots, others have a big shared garden, while some have both.
Being involved in a community garden is an excellent way for kids (and big kids!) to learn all kinds of skills involved with growing food. It’s wonderful real world, hands-on experience too — not just ‘book learning’. Community gardens often also have guest speakers and workshops where more in depth exploration of a topic takes place. And it’s not only gardening skills children can learn here, but skills in interacting and communicating with a wide range of people and working as part of a group.
Community gardens may also have a program for sharing their produce with needy members of the community and other community events, so children can be involved in these aspects as well.
If there is no community garden yet close enough for you to be involved with, why not see if you can start one? This opens up all sorts of involvement for children, as well as for you and other community members. Approach your council as a starting point, to see how they may be able to help you. They may be able to suggest possible locations for the garden, such as unused council land or land adjoining community facilities. They may also be able to help you get the word out and drum up community interest.
Another option, if your child attends a local school, is to see if the school would be interested in allowing the students to create their own school community garden. Members of the local community can then work alongside the students in growing food, which can then help provide fresh healthy produce to the community, and food for the school as well.
Community Workshops and Classes
Have your children brainstorm things that they think are important for them to learn about. What might they need to know as they take more responsibility for their lives or have families of their own? Some of these might include:
- Permaculture principles
- Vermiculture (worms)
- General gardening
- Classes related to specific types of plants
- Growing and using medicinal plants (older children)
- Growing, drying and using herbs
- Food preservation (older children)
- Bread making
- Healthy cooking
- Caring for animals
- Seed saving
- Sewing, knitting, crocheting
Have them research what classes/workshops are already available in your area. Community centres and community gardens often offer a variety over time. Are there any that would benefit your children — assuming kids are permitted to attend? Could a child-orientated version be run for the local children?
If they really would like to learn something that isn’t offered, who could you find to teach such a class? Are there other interested children… and adults? Where could these classes/workshops be held? Remember — most kids (and anyone, for that matter) learn better with a hands-on component of learning skills, and they also learn better when the concepts/skills being taught are of interest to them and they see a use for it in their lives. Also keep in mind the age and skill level appropriateness of a course.
Community Garden Workshop
Neighbourhood Food Preservation
Gathering together to preserve the harvest for lean times was an important event in times gone by. Families would meet up and work together to make canned fruits and veggies, jams and other types of preserved foods. These would then help support them for times when fresh food from their gardens was less abundant. Why not revive the tradition amongst your neighbours?
Find a group of interested people who grow various fruits and veggies and get together in someone’s home, when harvest is abundant, and make whatever kind of preserved food that suits the produce. Share recipes, ideas — and the final product!
Harvesting could also be done as a group effort. This is a great opportunity for children to learn the whole process, from planting, growing, harvesting, then making — and eating — the preserves.
Note: Due to the heat used in many preserving methods, and sharp knives, parts of this activity are really only suited to older children, under careful supervision. Harvesting however is probably fairly safe for most children, if commonsense is used. They could also help with things such as packing fruit and veggie pieces into jars, mixing cold ingredients, labelling, etc., but make sure you keep young children well away from scalding hot liquids and foods!
Join Local Community Groups
Taking part in groups that volunteer in your local area is also a great way for children to learn practical skills, communication skills and to give back to their community. They will also learn to find reward in service to others, and their environment; in a job well done, rather than money or other forms of payment. Make sure that you show them a good example by getting involved too, where appropriate — don’t just look at it as a ‘babysitting service’.
Some ideas for groups your children might like to consider are:
- ‘Friends’ groups, such as friends of parks, museums, sanctuaries, local areas, etc.
- Waterwatch groups
- Meals on Wheels, ‘soup kitchens’, etc.
- Grow for Trees For Life, or help collect seeds, plant and care for our bush.
- Scouts and Guides often do a lot of good work in the community and teach kids valuable skills.
- Join a local club for one of your main interests, such as bird watching, photography, hiking, orienteering, gardening, etc. Spending time with other enthusiasts is a great way to learn — and share what you know!
Tool and Equipment Share
This is an idea that is taking off at a very local level in quite a few communities. It can be done on a very informal basis between neighbours, or worked into a more formal setup. People offer their tools and any other items they like, to be available to others on a loan basis. Some rules need to be established regarding damage or loss of items; however it has seemed to work quite well in communities where it has been implemented. It can save quite a bit in both resources and expense, as, rather than each person needing to own one of everything, or hire an item, neighbours can share what they have. Items for loan might include garden tools, wheelbarrows, power tools, mechanic’s tools, painting supplies, woodworking tools, soldering irons and other electronics tools, technical and how-to books and manuals, measuring tools, trailers, mowers, edgers, whipper snippers, ladders, kitchen equipment and anything else useful.
Your children could help make and distribute flyers to promote the idea and help keep lists of who has what to offer and their contact details. It is probably best to leave the actual loan arrangement to the people involved and not try to take on coordinating this yourselves.
Another thing your children might like to try along these lines is a toy share, where neighbourhood kids (with the supervision of their parents) loan toys to each other. This is especially useful as kids outgrow younger toys, and these can then be used by a child in a younger bracket, or for kids who get bored quickly with a toy and want something new. Of course, toys may also be given away on a permanent basis if both parties agree. A word of caution with toy swaps — make sure your child understands what is involved, what could happen (i.e. the toy may get damaged or lost) and is emotionally ready to take part in the swap. Don’t try to force the issue. Kids can get very attached to toys (or anything) and you don’t want the experience to end up one of upset, rather than a joy in sharing.
This is somewhat similar to the one above, but instead of items, skills are shared with members of the community. Your children, especially if they are older, probably have a variety of skills which might be useful to others. Ideally, their time is given freely, without keeping score or expecting something in return. They will get back a lot in the pride of sharing what they can do… and no doubt others will, in turn, share with them in many ways, growing community along the way.
Some of the skills that could be shared are:
- Walking dogs
- Pet care for people on holiday
- Mail collection, as above
- Helping with handyman jobs such as painting, fixing things, etc.
- Teaching skills, such as computer skills, playing an instrument, crafts, etc.
- Helping someone with harvesting
- Watering gardens while someone is away
- Gardening, mowing, etc.
Note: Supervision may be needed with some of these activities, especially those which involve going into the homes of people you don’t know well. Age and skill appropriateness must also be taken into account.
Helping At-Risk Community Members
All communities have people who, for whatever reason, are less able to care for themselves than others, and every community should accept some responsibility for making sure these people are given every opportunity to live fulfilling lives as members of a caring community. This presents a great chance for your children to develop compassion and understanding of people of all kinds.
Help your children identify the kinds of people in their community that may need extra help. These may include the elderly, ill or frail people, disabled people, people who have been through trauma or suffer from depression, etc., people who have fallen on hard times, pregnant mums and new parents, recent immigrants and isolated people (for whatever reason).
Do any of your nearby neighbours fit into these categories? Maybe your local churches have lists of people who could use a helping hand? Local charities?
There are lots of things that might help people get through tough situations or hard times. These might include:
- Checking on them each day, either in person or by phone.
- Bringing in their mail, paper, etc., each day.
- Helping them make a shopping list. Shopping for them.
- Bringing them healthy meals or cooking for them in their homes.
- Arranging services such as Meals on Wheels, a wheelchair taxi, doctor’s appointments, etc.
- Accompanying them on trips to the shops, appointments, etc., for company and someone to turn to if they have difficulties.
- Garden and home help.
- Caring for their pets, walking dogs.
- Babysitting so that a new mum can sleep.
- Reading to, or with, someone.
- Being there, company, listening, comforting.
Once again, supervision and age/skill appropriateness needs to be considered.
Keeping your community up-to-date with what is happening in their local area is another way to help knit a community together. Your kids might find it fun to publish their own newsletter, reporting on events and happenings around the area.
This could either be a printed newsletter, or an online version, or you could produce it in both formats to suit different members of the community. There’s lots of opportunity for creativity, such as photography, artwork, creating puzzles, stories, articles, etc.
Some of the things that could be covered in the newsletter include:
- Promotion of upcoming community events such as fairs, festivals, community theatre productions, guest speaker events, etc.
- Calendar of community workshops and classes, with all relevant details.
- Local road works and other disruptions to traffic or community use of areas.
- New shops that are opening locally.
- Community swaps and markets.
- Welcome to newcomers to the area, baby arrivals and farewells to those moving on to other areas.
- Promoting ‘green’ events.
- Promoting worthwhile fundraisers.
- A community group section, where the various community groups could write about what they are doing, such as working bees.
- Articles drawing attention to important local issues.
- Post-event round-ups of the various events held in the community.
- Photos and illustrations of various events by local children, and others.
- Competitions, especially those related in some way to creating a ‘greener’ future and stronger community.
- Reviews of ‘green’ products and services.
- Interviews with local shopkeepers, etc.
- You could also include free advertising space for local businesses and ‘green’ products, etc.
You could also progress to also having your kids work on a community website, and even an online community radio station, if you have the skills to do this.
Community Photography Exhibition
Organise a local photography exhibition and invite the community to take part. You could have a section for kids entries, as well as adult categories.
Let your kids brainstorm category/theme ideas. These could be along the lines of community, sustainability and environmental themes, with themes such as:
- Our community in action
- Saving energy
- Protecting our waterways
- Environmental protection
- Our local businesses
- Our precious natural places
- Things to do in our community
See if you can get local businesses to donate prizes. Ask a local photography club to provide judges, or get visitors to the exhibition to vote on what they feel best depicts the theme. Display the entries in a local hall or community centre and invite the whole community along to have a look.
Our Community: The Movie
Why not get your kids involved in making a short video movie about the community in which they live. Or, they may like to create their own community ‘TV show’ type series. They could promote and record various community events and projects, interview neighbours, visit local shops and attractions, and discuss important community issues and problems. Other local children, or adults, could be invited as guest presenters.
If they are pleased with their results, let them organise a screening of their videos, either at home to family, friends and neighbours, or a larger screening for the general community at a local hall or community centre. Other places that they may be able to show their movies are schools, scout and guide groups and various community organisations.
Connecting Through Social Media
One way that young people may find particularly attractive is to keep in touch with each other and what’s happening in their community through social media such as the Worldwide Permaculture Network, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, etc. Social media can be a great tool for reaching many people in your community, so why not make the most of it? Interact with them in familiar territory.
Start a community Facebook page, where events can be posted. Your kids will enjoy helping you update this, along with any other ways you can think of using social media to help keep the community informed and connected.
Your kids would also probably enjoy making short videos of various community events, promo videos, etc., and putting them on YouTube. Encourage others to do the same. You will end up with quite a nice collection of videos documenting your community and the progress it makes over time, towards resilience.
Get Involved With a Transition Town Initiative!
Transition Towns are the exciting way many communities are working towards establishing resilient communities. New ones are beginning all the time, so check to see if there’s one in your area. If not, you could start the process yourself… with a few interested participants!
There are so many different areas that you could get involved with, within a Transition Town initiative, as they cover all aspects of making communities more self sufficient and resilient. Each Transition Town will develop working groups for the aspects that best suit their particular community.
The following are some of the areas which some Transition Towns have chosen to include in their transition plan: Arts, Business, Currency, Energy, Health, Heart and Soul, Schools, Textiles, Village Connections (linking the town to the surrounding villages), Waste, Water, Building and Design for Life, Food and Growing, Real Wealth and Livelihoods, Skills for Community Building, Transition Arts, Transition Education, Travel And Transport groups and a Transition Networking Group.
As you can see, there’s bound to be something to interest and inspire everyone! Many of the groups welcome participation by younger community members, although there may only be certain things very young ones can be involved in.
Transition Town initiatives usually hold various community events, to create interest and awareness in the project, and hopefully to encourage people to get involved. There’s usually lots of opportunity to be involved in the fun of carrying out these events.
Being involved with a Transition Town can certainly be a very unique and rewarding experience, with so much opportunity for learning and community building. Well worth the effort if you have the time and opportunity!
Hopefully the above ideas have given you at least a few starting points for helping your children get involved with localisation and community.
It is important, with all of these ideas, to make sure you involve your children as much as possible, within the boundaries of their capacity. Sometimes just going ahead and doing something ourselves seems the easier option, but don’t lose sight of the fact that you are trying to instil these skills and ideals in your children, so that they can be a valuable part of their resilient community in the future.
Creating a vibrant, close local community benefits all involved. Events such as those above break down barriers, provide opportunities for people to share and get to know each other and help build a strong foundation for your local community. And you and your children can help make this happen! What could be more rewarding than that?