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CYC-Net
issue 2 MARCH 1999 / BACK
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practice

Connecting children with their world

Brian Gannon

Kathy Scott said recently “At James House here in Hout Bay, Cape Town, we try to give the children nothing that they can’t take with them when they leave.”

In child care practice today, we don’t help children to manage in their own worlds if we have provided resources and material goods which don’t exist for them back home. Instead, we offer “portable” gains, “take-away” skills, and ideas which will work in their world.

In our engaging with children we try to give them the ability to establish and enjoy positive relationships to replace the hurt and mistrust of the past – so that they can leave us with trust and self-confidence.

But engaging also means connecting kids to the universal things they will find in life and which are available to all of us – fun, games, sports, sea, mountains, walks ... and ideas and knowledge.

The individual me
One of the things which makes us secure and self-contained individuals is the fact that we have certain interests and abilities which we can learn about and devote our time and energy to. Isn’t it true that many of your friends are characterised by such pursuits – they are good at fishing or gardening or movies or at playing the guitar. These interests and pastimes are there for everyone – no limits or exclusions. I am known for the music I love, my son for his attachment to golf, a friend for his ability to fix motor cars and another for his jokes!

Certainly one of the gifts we can give to the children we work with – something they can take away with them when they leave – is some experience and knowledge of the “free stuff” in the world.

Our pessimism?
Is it possibly a sign of our own tendency to expect the worst that we offer all those cliché skills to troubled children – conflict resolution, problem solving, anger management, self-defence ... ? I wonder how necessary those things would be if we offered them experience in sailing, vegetable growing, soccer, playing bongo drums, or fixing bikes.

On the right (have a look) an inspired child care worker has taken a couple of kids and let them loose amongst the rock pools on the beach. One of these kids may develop a lifetime interest in fishing, the other may be longing to get home for tea!

At another time and place some brilliant father has delivered two children by truck to the open spaces of the countryside: one may become a committed amateur botanist or entomologist (what’s that?!) and the other may simply come to love the feel of the wind blowing in her hair.

And all of this is free. There is no entrance charge, no age restriction. All we have to do is take the trouble to expose our children to these things which can entertain and absorb them today – and for the rest of their lives. In many cases these pastimes can be the things which help them through troubled marriages and job crises, through free weekends and empty afternoons.

Your plan
As a child care worker you must share the responsibility for this with the children themselves. If you talk with them you will discover things which you never suspected, that this one can sew beautifully and this one loves fishing; that this one knows all there is to know about pop music, and this one can cook up a mean toffee! When you find out the things they like (or, with deprived children it may be the things they think they may like and would like to try) your task is to offer opportunities. That’s all. “Seeing you like fishing, let’s go down to the river on Sunday,” or “I’m off to the library this afternoon – who’s coming?”

In a larger children's organisation it is a good idea to collect information about “who likes what” more systematically, and then the staff team can share out the activities they would like to offer. In most cases you will find that certain staff members also like cricket or climbing or sleeping in the sun, and this brings them closer to the children who share these interests.

Many troubled kids haven’t had the opportunity to connect to their world. Either their lives have been very deprived (I once met a ten-year-old child in Woodstock – half a mile from Woodstock beach – who had never seen the sea!) or their families have been preoccupied by poverty or conflict or unhappiness and they have been locked into the family problems. For these kids we must create opportunities to develop interests and connections. We take the trouble to say “Who would like a walk over the hill before tea?” or “I’m going to see the start of the race on Saturday – who would like to come along?”

You never know. You may start something which he can take away with him and will last some youngster a lifetime. You may connect him to some interest through which he will grow wings and fly to heights beyond both of your hopes and dreams. Just engage!

The International Child and Youth Care Network
THE INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK (CYC-Net)

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