“Which communities are nestled within your classroom walls?” A post on Our Communities x Young Children by Exchange fellow Jackie Reno

Preschoolers sitting in a circle reach out to touch a piece of artwork at the center.

“That treasured feeling of community comes from shared experiences and a sense of—not necessarily the actual experience of—shared history. As a result, people know who is and isn’t part of their community. This feeling is fundamental to human existence.” 

-David M Chavis & Kein Lee

By Jackie Reno

When I first read about the VTAEYC Exchange and saw the different intersection topics, I felt a surge of interest and excitement. There was an opportunity in each of the intersections: “our planet”, “our diversity” and “our communities”. I knew I wanted to be involved, but I couldn’t decide which one to pursue because in my mind it was hard to separate the topics (they are intersections, after all)!  Eventually I landed on “our communities” because I realized that I am in a unique position to explore the connection between our communities and the healthy development of our young children. 

I work full time at the Janet S. Munt Family Room. As much of my time is spent with children as it is with their parents and caregivers. We interface with many organizations aimed to serve various communities as well. The Family Room is a community itself that holds nestled within it smaller sections of communities and facilitates connections between them. Take our preschool for example: our class this year has just seven students; yet home languages spoken by families and staff include Arabic, Nepali, Korean, English, Maay Maay, and Burmese. Preschoolers and their families attend other community programs at the Family Room (like parent support groups, infant massage, New American Pediatric Health Clinic, Dad’s Night, Family Play or the Garden program). This context has given me unique perspective into many of the community groups in greater Burlington (and beyond). Language groups are not the only way community members identify – there are shared needs that hold people together, be it based on culture, neighborhood, hobby, among many others. The commonality at the Family Room is caring for (or being) a child.  

Preschoolers sit in a circle and reach out to touch a piece of artwork at the center. Photo: Jackie Reno
Photo by Jackie Reno of preschoolers’ hands touching an exhibit at Burlington City Arts.

When I’m not at work (and when I am) I love playing with textiles, natural dyes and fibers as a way to learn more about human and family history, global cultures, and nature.  When I started graduate school, my children were 2 and 4 years old and I was working full time. This hobby started around then and I think it stuck with me because it fulfilled a different need; a need to use my hands and create, to be tactile and make decisions about something that only affected the art I was making (not something bigger like a Family, or a community). I find so much joy in being part of a local art community. 

Researching human history related to the above has highlighted for me how rapidly family dynamics and community relationships have changed in response to the economy. This has really opened my eyes to how capitalism, the current economic system in the United States, affects child development and options that families have. 

Black and white photo of two young children in collared shirts and overalls gazing calmly at the camera.
Photograph by Lewis Hine of young children working in a North Pownal, Vermont textile mill in 1910. Visit the Library of Congress  to see more images of children in Vermont’s textile mills. Thanks to the work of Hines and other organizers, laws have since passed prohibiting child labor. However, children still remain vulnerable to the economic demands within their communities.

Family systems had evolved over generations with their children being cared for by known and trusted family or community members. Now, each family has unique reasons for needing childcare – and for many the economics of it all is out of balance. Having a family is very expensive, and in order to pay for housing, food, health costs, and other necessities families are often compelled to join the workforce and seek childcare outside of their close-knit communities or natural support network. Different communities have different expectations about child rearing and therefore families become vulnerable when entrusting the care of their children to new people. It is vital that early childhood educators strive to understand the relationships and histories among all of the communities within their setting.

I so look forward to engaging and exchanging with the early education community in Vermont. How do you define community? Which communities are you a part of? Which communities are nestled within your classroom walls? 

Chavis, D. M., & Lee, K. (2015). What Is Community Anyway? Stanford Social Innovation Review. https://doi.org/10.48558/EJJ2-JJ82

Hine, L. W., photographer. (1910) Two young doffers cotton mill North Pormal i.e., Pownal, Vt. Location: North Pownal, Vermont. United States Vermont North Pownal, 1910. August. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2018675330/.

Jackie Reno is a VTAEYC Exchange Fellow with a focus on Our Communities x Young Children. Click here to learn more about Jackie and the Fellowship program, and click here to learn more about the VTAEYC Exchange.