Children at Dandelion - 1988
Name...sienna 5/30/01 1988
History For the first several years of Dandelion's existence (1975-1980) there were no children living at Dandelion; it was felt that with few members and a great deal of other work to be done in getting established, the community could not afford to have children, or at least not to raise them in the kind of atmosphere and with the kind of facilities and attention that was thought desirable. Subsequently, several children were born at the community, and several others of varying ages have lived here for periods of one to three years. Several of us are also parents of grown children, and have had extensive experience with children both outside and in community.
Our children's programme in its early years was a very complete one, involving full-time child care for full labour credit, and carried out by a group of members called "metas". We made extensive use of our children's building, "Sprout", and in some ways the children's lives were rather separate from the rest of the activities of the community. The metas were responsible for every aspect of the children's programme, and a great deal of time and effort went into child care. This programme and its philosophy are described in the two-page paper on the child-rearing programme written about 1983.
All of the children born here have left the community with their parent or parents after a few years. Other children have come and gone, but for the most part there have never been more than three children here at a time, and often there has been only one. In general, it has been difficult to have children here without a sizable core group of adults interested in child care, and without some sort of peer group for the child or children. It has sometimes appeared as a "chicken-and-egg" situation, where you have to have children living here already in order to attract other people with children.
Current Approach We see children, not as a class apart, but as individuals, a wide variety of personalities, with strengths and weaknesses, needs to fill and contributions to make, just like people of any age. Thus, it is simply a fact that certain children will fit well into our way of life and others will have, or present, more problems. Although children, especially very young children, have special needs in terms of time and resources, we try not to make any other generalizations about having children in the community, since the experience varies so much according to each individual child.
We have also found that there are few other issues in community that involve people so intensely and emotionally as do issues around children. This fact has led us into some very growthful experiences as a group, as we have struggled with our own attitudes and contradictions and needs, in the attempt to we truly egalitarian with regard to children as well as adults. Issues such as noise and rowdiness, violent games and war toys, children in our hammock shop, neatness and messiness, schooling and "discipline", have all been major topics here at different times, and we continue to try to deal with them in ways that fully respect each person, whatever their age.
We recognize child care as one of the most difficult, challenging and rewarding jobs in the community, and it is an important principle for us that child care work be counted as full credit work in our labour system. However, there are times when, because of low population or other problems, we are unable to afford full time child care; our only alternatives are to give credit for only part of the time spent with the kids, or to not have any kids here at all. Naturally, there are many times and circumstances, especially as children get older, when it is quite possible and even desirable to combine child care with other activities (gardening, housework, weaving hammocks, etc.), and we encourage this, while at the same time recognizing the importance of each child having access to one-on-one attention when they need it.
While many parents and other members at Dandelion have been interested in the option of home schooling, the community's experience with home schooling showed it to be extremely expensive in terms of labour, as well as demanding a high level of maturity, discipline and commitment on the part of both student and teacher(s). Our experience with public schools, both the Kindergarten to Grad 8 school in Enterprise and the High School in Napanee (20 miles away), has been generally positive, and we encourage parents and school-age children to plan on public schooling if they decide to live at Dandelion, at least initially.
There are many advantages for both children and parents living in community. One obvious one is the diversity of people that the children get to know and form attachments with; very often our interests, aptitudes and personalities complement each other and the children experience a wide variety of positive inter-actions and role models. They learn responsibility quickly, both by precept and by example, and gain the ability to meet the challenges of the outside world grounded in our communal values of non-violence, equality and co-operation. Parents are freed from exclusive responsibility for "their" children, although they are almost invariably with the children. There is support for both parents and children to break old negative patterns that may have come from the past and to learn or create new ways of being in the world.
Dandelion children are expected, in accordance with their age and abilities, to do their share of work (this is discussed and negotiated, and includes school and schoolwork), to clean up after themselves, and to try to be considerate and co-operative with others. In turn, we as adults are committed to these same expectations, and to treating children with full respect for each of them as individuals. This means being open to different ideas about child-rearing than we were raised with, working on developing our patience and our playfulness, and learning to really hear what the children have to say, whether they are able to express themselves in words or not. The Parent Effectiveness Training (PET) approach is one from which we draw many useful ideas and insights.
It is important for us to recognize that a child's (or and adult's) anger may be valid and acceptable, but destructive ways of expressing it, physical or psychological violence, are definitely not. This is a fine line to draw, but it is part of our commitment to non-violence as a way of life. War toys and guns are not available, and the absence of TV helps us to implement our vision of a non-violent, non-commercial environment for both kids and adults. We also pay attention to diet, recognizing that an excess of sweets or of "junk food" is unhealthy both physically and psychologically, and can and does affect behaviour.
Joining Dandelion with Children We want it to be possible for children to live here, and we are convinced that community offers parents, particularly single parents, a viable and enriching alternative. But joining community is a big step for anyone, and when children are involved it is even more so. Because we go to considerable effort to integrate new children, we ask that you visit with your children only if you are serious about living in a community, either now or in the near future. If you are not sure, you may want to visit without your children first.
Your initial visit with your children should be at least three weeks, perhaps longer. While you are here, you will be living and working as much like a community member as possible, while we discuss with you and your children your needs, your contributions, and your potential involvement. Depending on whether we have children living here at the time you visit, we may or may not have an organized child care programme in which your children can be included. Children do demand considerable extra labour and resources, and each potential membership involving children has to be realistically assessed in that light as well as in the knowledge of the richness and joy that children can bring to the community.