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Constructive Conversations

by Catherine McAuliffe

I’ve mentioned before that I was a preschool teacher before I came to Northwest Harvest. Leaving that job was a very interesting transition. I had a class full of three and four year olds and they naturally wanted to know where I was going to be going. A couple of parents told me during my last week at Small Faces that they explained to their kids that I was going to be leaving and they would be getting a new teacher which prompted questions about where I was going and what I was going to do. I remember one mom telling me that she was explaining to her 4 year old daughter that some people don’t have enough food at home and that I was going to work for an agency which helps people get food. Her daughter responded by saying that if people are hungry and don’t have food then they can just go to the store and buy some more.

That kind of innocence was part of why I loved teaching preschool. The world seems so simple and straightforward to these kids. It also meant that they were lucky enough not to have faced real hunger in their lives. When that is the case though, how do you start the conversation about what hunger is? Or homelessness? Or really any social issue facing our communities? Beyond that, how do you help get them involved in service efforts when they can’t fully grasp the meaning behind the service?

Early World Children's School came up with a creative way to get their younger students involved and engaged in a food drive. The coordinator of their drive mentioned that she didn’t think that the younger kids would be able to grasp the whole concept of hunger and people needing food. However, at the school they have a large stuffed bear named Otto that gets dressed up for different events and occasions. The school decided to explain to the kinds that Otto was getting ready to hibernate and that he needed plenty of food to help fatten him up so that he could make it through the winter. This way even the kids who aren’t ready to understand what hunger really means they are invested in collecting enough food to give to someone else (even if it is a bear).

I love this idea on so many levels. Does it give young children a concrete and clear explanation of what hunger is? Probably not but it does so much more. It creates awareness about doing things for other people without reward for yourself. It starts conversations about giving back and taking care of people so that when these kids are old enough to understand the complexity of the issue (be it hunger or anything else) they already have life experiences that can be applied. Children learn a lot from following an example. That is largely why I love hearing about schools who put a focus on volunteer opportunities and collections like a food drive: it provides kids with solid examples that they can then follow.

I am very excited to see how much food Otto gets before it’s time to hibernate!

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