A guide to raising little advocates
I have had the joy of being a preschool teacher the past few years, and I believe I have been taught more by the souls in my classroom than I have taught them. Mixed in with the finger paint, dinosaurs, and block towers, I have witnessed countless moments of courage, kindness, and emotion among the children. Preschoolers are often overwhelmed. They cry when their friends cry and they laugh uncontrollably when their friends tell a joke - and most times they don’t even know why. Children are filled with empathy; they engage in the feelings of others, they sympathize quickly, and they are incredibly observant.
These are all the qualities of a fierce advocate - people who see others and people who care.
There were days, though, when I wondered how to practically encourage advocacy within them. Joining in Dressember’s cause has further led me to wonder what I can do to gently help children understand the hurt of others and their own ability to help. I want to offer just a few suggestions for engaging children in a lifestyle of advocacy and compassion that I found helpful in life and in the classroom.
1. Many have done this, but I want to encourage you again to invite the little lives around you into Dressember’s story. Match your dresses or ties, grow excited at the prospect of advocating, and allow them to feel as involved and life-changing as you do. They may not understand, but they will remember the experience.
Young children don’t do what we say: they do what we do. They watch and soak up their surroundings like sponges, sometimes (at least to me) to a shocking extent. The first step to instilling care about deep issues is showing your children, students, or young family members how much you care. You stop to comfort the crying one. You speak kindly of those who hurt, who are different, who are outcasts. You engage uncomfortable situations with love and you encourage diversity of stories to intertwine with your journey. This is perhaps the most obvious step, but nothing else we can teach them will be quite as effective if we aren’t setting an example of compassion.
2. Find opportunities to volunteer and serve which can include even the youngest. There are most likely places where you live that would welcome an entire family or classroom, even if it meant letting the little ones do something seemingly insignificant. Nothing is insignificant! This lets them own their response: a job which helps them understand that others need help, and we have the ability to give to those in any form of bondage or oppression. As an example, in my hometown there is a diaper bank for struggling mothers, and they open their doors to anyone of any age who wishes to help sort and wrap diapers. Preschoolers spend an entire morning carrying diapers and enjoy every second.
3. Read books to your class or your children which encourage kindness and empathy. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney has traveled with me from my childhood and impressed on me at a young age that our life’s mission should be to make the world a kinder, more beautiful place than we found it. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes teaches children the power of seeing one person and the difference this can make in their life. Even The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss shows children the power of love regardless of appearances or life circumstances. There are countless books that encourage this heart of care and compassion. Find the thinnest of compassionate threads in a story and place a magnifying glass on it for the littles around you. They will see the compassion if you see it.
Being a part of raising little advocates means you are a part of shaping a more compassionate future, and hopefully a future with less oppression. Be creative in your involvement: children thrive on creativity! This list is far from exhaustive, but should hopefully work as a spark to help you think about how to let the children in your life come on the journey with you. They will grow to know that love is deep and filled with grace because of you.
About the Author
Myra Grady is honored to be using her love of writing as she joins Dressember in their fight against human trafficking. She is pursuing an English degree through Thomas Edison State University and currently enjoys her days as a preschool teacher. Outside of work, Myra can often be found exploring St. Louis with her husband, watching The Office reruns, eating far too much ice cream, and learning how to knit.