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The Biggest Change Can Start with the Smallest Learners

November 19, 2021

Children are at the center of our world each and every day. They are our axis - we spin around their needs and focus our energy on what is best for their education, development, sense of security, and well-being. We work to ensure they are safe, fed, supported, learning, and healthy. But what about their little world? Are we doing enough to make sure they have an understanding of the world they are a part of, emphasizing and encouraging them to explore, discover and connect? Do we provide them with a strong sense of self so they can confidently grow and have the skills to set them on the best path to be independent thinkers and leaders? Do we give them the tools to navigate their own world and the world around them with an understanding of and empathy for all people? Children, even at the youngest age, can play a real and important role  in making even just their small world better.

On this World Children’s Day, a day that commemorates the anniversary of the date that the UN General Assembly adopted both the Declaration and the Convention on children’s rights, and with this year’s focus on “A better future for every child,” we can celebrate the opportunities we have to help children from the earliest years to not only develop a connection to their world, but to also know they have a role in their world.  UNICEF’s annual day encourages us to recognize the need for action for children in key areas such as climate change, education, mental health, and ending racism and discrimination - a tall order for grown-ups let alone little ones to tackle. But it also shines a sparkling light on the work that children themselves are doing every day in big and small ways to create a better world and a promising and brighter future for children around the globe.

It is this sense of empowerment that we can instill in children from the start to help them know they can make a difference in their world - even if that world, for now, is just their sandbox or classroom.

Children and young people are raising their voices on the issues that matter to their generation and calling for adults to create a better future. As the world recovers from the pandemic, it’s more important than ever that we listen to them.”

~United Nations World Children’s Day

Laying the foundation of emotional intelligence and opening the doors to empathy and compassion can give children the tools they need to develop friendships, understand, respect, and embrace differences, be thoughtful and caring of others, learn to work together to solve problems and find solutions, and to know that yes, they can have an important role to make someone’s day, or even the world, better. Even the smallest acts by our smallest of learners can grow into something more. When children work together to make a difference, be it picking up litter in the neighborhood, helping a bird back into its nest, sitting with a friend who feels sad, or sharing their snack, they are learning they can make something better, even in the smallest way.  They will carry this with them and build on their sense of pride and power in creating change. Who knows where that can lead...the next Greta Thunberg or Malala Yousafzai could be sitting in your class today! 

But how does this all start? With us - the grown-ups. We know children are watching how we, as the key adults in their world, act, interact, and react. We need to be sure we are modeling the path toward engagement and action for them - when we demonstrate we can make a difference, they will gain a sense that they can do the same. When we show empathy for and understanding of others’ experiences, feelings, and ideas, they will know they can reach out to connect with others and care as well. Instilling empathy for and connection to all of our friends no matter where they live, no matter their background, culture, language, skin color, or experience can start from birth.

With Thanksgiving on our doorstep, now is the perfect opportunity to introduce young children to the experiences, cultures, and traditions of others and help them to understand and celebrate the one thing everyone shares - differences, and how very often what makes us different actually connects us. Understanding the history of cultures beyond our own backyards can literally open the world to young children and help them build that sense of connectedness, compassion, and empathy for the experiences of others - wanting to learn more, understand more, and...help more.

Reading together is always one of our favorite ways to jumpstart these big conversations. Here are some favorite books to share this Thanksgiving week that celebrate and illuminate Native American and Indigenous voices.  

Wishing you a World Children’s Day that brings promise for a better tomorrow for every child, and a Thanksgiving of peace, gratitude, learning, and sharing.

Books Celebrating Native American and Indigenous Voices to Read Together:

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