Over the past year or so, a lot of white friends have asked me, “I’m ready to be more than an ally, but I also don’t want to encroach on black liberation spaces. How can I support the movement?” My best answer (besides, “Ask your black-led organizations what they need from you”) is offer to provide childcare.
By providing free childcare at every meeting or event, we make the movement accessible to working-class and cash-poor families – especially single parents! – and more welcoming to newcomers from any walk of life. Plus, regardless of our own reproductive choices, providing childcare gives us the honor of helping to raise the next generation of revolutionaries!
More than simply keeping the kiddos entertained, childcare in a radical space is an opportunity for us to make complex political and sociological concepts accessible to children, teach them the history of the civil rights movement, and help them develop the social-emotional skills they’ll need as they practice liberation. Even better, it’s a chance for us to learn from the children and youth whose voices are so often ignored.
I’ve done a lot of childcare since joining CCJ in 2012, including holding down the Children’s Assembly at the sixth Southern Movement Assembly, so I’ve learned a lot along the way! Here are some of my “best practices” for making childcare in a movement space a safe, enjoyable, and meaningful experience for everyone.
- Be safe!
- If the childcare space is more than a two-minute walk away from the adults’ meeting, swap phone numbers with the kids’ guardians. If the event will last more than a few hours, you may want to have the guardians fill out a form that includes their contact information, the child’s medical/dietary needs, and a list of any belongings (diapers, toys, inhaler, etc.) the family brought for the child.
- Never be the only adult with a group of children. You should always have multiple volunteers in case of an emergency — and so you can go to the bathroom! A good rule of thumb is two adults for every 5-7 kids, but it really depends on the ages of the children and the volunteers’ experience/comfort levels.
- Keep the space clean, clear of any hazards (cuz small kids are clumsy) and accessible to folks with physical disabilities. If you’ll be outside, mark boundaries for your space and keep the group away from roads or parking lots.
- Have drinking water and healthy, allergen-free snacks on hand. Applesauce, nut-free snack bars, string cheese, and veggie straws are always a hit.
- Assemble a first-aid kit with band-aids of all sizes, antibacterial wipes and ointment, and a couple of those instant ice packs. Sunscreen is also a good idea if you’ll be outdoors.
- Make the space democratic and inclusive
- If you’ll be together for more than a couple hours, take some time to set group norms based on the ideas and feedback of the kids. This may not be realistic if most of the kids are toddler/preschool age, but children ages 5 and up should definitely be invited to create the rules.
- Give choices as much as possible. Let the kids choose a book from some pre-selected options, or pick an active game during free play. If a child doesn’t want to participate in your activity, let them color quietly. It’s not school, and the kids are in charge of their own behavior and bodies.
- Certain disabilities can make it hard for children to participate if there are lots of people or noises around. If possible, provide a quiet space that includes pillows or air mattresses for resting, as well as books, play dough, and/or bubbles, as those are all great for calming mind and body.
- Plan ahead
- If possible, find out how many children will be there, and how old they are. If the event you’re helping with has folks pre-register, ask the group to include a section for listing number/ages of kids.
- Talk to the event organizers to see what materials they have or can get for you. Chances are, they’ll have easel pads or butcher paper and markers, and other parents involved in the organization might be happy to share some of their toys or craft supplies.
- Ask to check out the adults’ agenda, and make a list of child-appropriate activities that match the topics of discussion. For more specific activity ideas and lesson plans, check out my Pinterest page (and some day, I will create a lesson plan compilation)!
- Materials I use and love:
- Hula hoops, jump ropes, and sports cones are great for teambuilding games and general outdoor play
- Cooperative board games (nobody paid for that link, I just really like PK’s games, and so does Bean!)
- Play-doh and bubbles – great for helping kids calm their bodies!
- Sidewalk chalk
- Blocks, Legos, or other open-ended building toys
- Coloring supplies and butcher paper
- Air mattresses or beanbags (whatever you have that is comfortable for littles)
- Books! Books warrant their own posts (which makes it a great time to sign up for email updates or follow LL on Facebook!)