Some of our favourite engagement projects are centred on the contribution of kids and their caregivers. They always bring fun, colour and random creativity to a project from suggestions for a cats and dogs olympics under the proposed raised rail in Merri-bek City Council, a free goldfish giveaway for residents of Whittlesea to support the Domestic Animal Management Policy and an all animal school zoo to send domestic animals to during the day to support native biodiversity in Melbourne’s West. It is worth mentioning the latter two suggestions were the ideas of caregivers inspired by their kids.
So how can we foster environments for this creative participation?
Respect caregivers time
Parents and caregivers are often busy and may have many competing demands on their time. When planning events or meetings, be mindful of their schedules and try to offer flexible options that work for them. Consider offering childcare or activities for children to make it easier for parents to attend. Providing food or refreshments can also be a nice gesture that shows you value their time and effort.
Include more facilitators to focus on children
If children are present, make sure to have enough facilitators to support activities for them. This will allow parents to fully engage in the activity or conversation without having to worry about their children’s safety or behaviour. It will also ensure that the children are engaged and entertained, which can make the experience more enjoyable for everyone.
Collaborate with parents and children
Engage both parents and children in the activities or conversations to create a collaborative environment. Offer activities that allow parents and children to work together, such as craft projects or games. This can foster a sense of teamwork and can also be a fun bonding experience for families.
Use bright and colourful props and materials
Using bright and colourful props and materials can help to capture children’s attention and make the experience more engaging. It can also help to create a positive and welcoming environment that encourages participation.
Location is important
Choose a location that is convenient and comfortable for families. Consider places where families already gather, such as community centres, sports grounds, parks, or schools. These areas are good because they offer space for excited children, prams and families to move around comfortably.
Create opportunities for wild ideas
Encourage parents and children to share their wildest ideas and dreams. This can help to spark creativity and imagination, and can also help to build confidence and self-esteem. It can also lead to unexpected and innovative solutions to problems. Use probing questions to support this to gather insights, depth and clarity from caregivers.