When We Were Kids project

In 2009, I received a small funding grant from the local council to facilitate a community project.

I called the project “When We Were Kids…”

The project involved inviting people who live, work, and play, in the community I work in to tell stories of their childhood.

Workshops were held at the local community centre, and participants related stories of: the antics they got up to when they were children; what they liked about where they grew up; fond memories; lessons that they learned; the values that they learned as children growing up within their family and community; what it means to them to be a person who is raising and/or working with children; and what values they are teaching their children now in preparation for their future. The workshops were facilitated by a professional storyteller.

When the stories were completed, the students at the local public school were asked to provide illustrations for the stories. The stories and illustrations were displayed at an exhibition at the community centre. 180 story vignettes and 110 pictures were collected for the project under the themes of family, play, food, and community.

One of the aims of the project was to strengthen the connection between the community and the community centre as a community resource. Unfortunately this objective was not met. The community centre does not attract a large number of people from the community. Many people living in the community do not know of the community centre’s existence or its whereabouts. It is also regarded as inaccessible by much of the community. One of the When We Were Kids workshops was conducted at the local school and that attracted a large number of participants. Similarly, the exhibition was poorly attended. This was largely due to an outbreak of swine flu in the community. There was great feedback when the project was displayed at the school during Book Week.

Other aims of the project were:

1. Identify the influences on children in order to promote good beginnings for every child. The project sought input from the adults in the community to reflect on what influenced them as children and in turn how they influence the children they are raising or working with. There was also the opportunity for participants to reflect on the differences and similarities for children throughout the generations and between cultural groups.

The story vignettes addressed issues of racism, prejudice, community engagement and cohesion, environmental issues, family values, respect, education, friendship, hardship, historical events, and resilience. It started people talking about what matters to them

2. Build community harmony. The first step in breaking down stereotypes is to sit down and have a conversation with someone and listen to their story. This project was about identifying, acknowledging and valuing the lived experience of every person. The children and adults who participated were different ages, cultures, socioeconomic status, and abilities.

3. Build connections between the generations. In this modern world, children may not have the opportunity to listen to the stories of their grandparents and parents. Listening to the stories of previous generations facilitates empathy, perspective-taking, and a sense of history for children. Asking the children of the public school to illustrate the stories gathered from the community provided the opportunity for them to be engaged and included in the process and to derive self-esteem from their involvement.

The Aboriginal children at the public school were involved in illustrating the stories from an Aboriginal elder in the community. For many of the children, this was the first time they had heard these stories. Similarly, many of the non-Indigenous children had not heard the stories of their parents and grandparents, and the project initiated many discussions between children and adults about many of the issues raised in the stories.

4. Community Pride. The exhibition event gave those who participated, their families, children, and interested members of the community, the opportunity to hear and view and comment on the work that has been created and build pride in the community in which they live or work.

The children at the school wanted to have a say about what they like doing, so another aspect of the project was created called ‘We Are Kids’. The children immensely enjoyed creating the artwork for the story vignettes, for their own section “We Are Kids”, and creating decorative backdrops for the exhibition. The children took ownership of the project and had a lot of pride in what they created. This was evidenced at the project display at the school’s Book Week event in August 2009. Children were having their photographs taken beside the pictures they drew. The children whose parents or grandparents participated in the workshops were very proud of their family’s participation.

The adults who viewed the exhibition at the Book Week event commented that they enjoyed reading the story vignettes, reminiscing about their own childhood, and viewing the children’s illustrations.

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Narelle Smith

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About Narelle Smith

Child & Family Worker

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