Teaching kids about community building
This interview is from A Kids Book About: The Podcast, with host Matthew Winner and author of A Kids Book About Community, Shane Feldman. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
What does community mean?
What is community? A better question might be what isn't community, because I think of it as everything; we are human beings.
If you're listening to this, unless you are a dog on the floor and you can speak English, you are probably a human being, which means that you are a social animal. Which means that you crave, you need, you require, in order to exist, you require some form of deep, meaningful connection.
And so I define community as a shared experience. It means you're doing something in connection with at least one other person, and it's meaningful. It's a meaningful, shared experience. So that to me is community.
You, no doubt, belong to a number of communities.
While you think about what some of those might be, let’s hear from Shane about the communities he considers himself a part of.
So I'll start with a really simple one that is probably going to resonate with many people. My family is one of my communities. So I have two younger sisters. I have a mom and I actually have a really big extended family of cousins and aunts and uncles. And that family unit to me is a special community.
I'd also say that I have lots of friends, especially in the LGBTQ+ community. That in it of itself, by the nature of the term, that's another community. And then there's some other really interesting communities I'm a part of. I spent a lot of time acting. I was in theater and so I have friends and people that I've performed on stage with.
And that is kind of a theater community that I'm a part of. And then I'm an entrepreneur. I've built a few businesses and I spent a lot of time working on companies and supporting companies that I care a lot about. And I'm part of masterminds. I get to work with other entrepreneurs and that is another amazing community that I get to be a part of.
So there are so many. And of course, when I was younger, those communities sounded a little different. I loved theater as well, as a kid, [I] was part of improv groups. Those are communities. And then I kind of tried out a couple of communities too. I tried a few that weren't really the right fit for me. So I remember I tried playing soccer for a bit. Was not, that those weren't my people, they just weren't, you know what soccer is for some people, it wasn't my thing that wasn't my community, but I tried it.
Right. So there are lots of, kind of hit or miss experiences too, as I was growing up.
You may have already had similar experiences to Shane. Communities that feel like a great fit. Communities you return to over and over. But also, new communities that you try out and, maybe, find out are not the right fit for you.
Sometimes, the community you’re looking for doesn’t exist yet. That might lead to you starting a brand new community, even if you don’t realize you’re doing it.
Well, the thing about community is that anybody can create a community. So they form, they start by having some kind of shared experience.
So I remember one day at recess, this was so long ago, but I remember it like it happened yesterday. I remember I was sitting on the ground, I was playing with a friend. And someone was playing basketball with the whole team and they kind of hit the ball the wrong way and it bounced off the court and almost hit me, but I was able to catch the ball as it was coming towards me, the basketball, and I threw it back at the group.
And then as I threw back, I guess I had a good throw and they asked if I wanted to play with them. And so that was a moment where I was being invited to join a community, in that moment, whether I played just that day or whether maybe I joined a team and was a part of it for a long time, it doesn't really matter how long you're a part of a community. A community is that shared experience.
It's that moment of time. And in many ways it's either an invitation or saying yes to someone else expressing an invitation.
Can anyone create a community?
Anybody can definitely create a community. But I'd say for some people, it might seem a little bit more intimidating, especially if you are an introvert. And I don't know if you've heard that word before, but everybody is kind of on this spectrum of introvert and extrovert.
And it's not that you're necessarily one or the other. But you may lean a little bit more in one of those directions, you're either more introverted or more extroverted. And what that basically means is an introvert recharges on their own. It means that after a long day with your friends, you probably just want to sit in the corner and read a book or kind of hang out on your own and recharge.
And an extrovert, someone that leans heavier on the extrovert side of things, they actually recharge with other people. So after a long day, playing with their friends, they actually want to be surrounded by their family and maybe hang out with another friend or talk on the phone with someone and that's how they recharge.
So if you're someone who's introverted, who recharges on their own, who maybe leans a little bit more towards solo activities. Sometimes it might feel a little intimidating or almost exhausting in advance to actually start a community because it's going to take a little bit more energy.
But anybody can create one. Anyone can be a community builder.
There’s this great line in A Kids Book About Community where Shane writes, “I thought I wasn't part of any community, but it turns out I was actually part of lots of different ones.”
And so I asked Shane if he had any advice on identifying what communities we’re already a part of.
Yeah, you are definitely already a part of a community. In fact, you're probably already a part of many communities and you may not even know it. Right? You might even be a community builder.
So what I would encourage you to think about is anything that you have done or experienced with other people that was special because you were experiencing it with those other people. Maybe write them down, maybe write a list of the things that you've done in the last week or the last month, or even the last year and draw a picture. It doesn't need to be a list, right, draw pictures of these things that you've done or experienced with other people.
And, I bet that most of those experiences were tied to a community, right? Maybe you performed in a play, right? Maybe you're part of a theater community, or maybe your drawing was selected to win a contest, or to be put up on the wall at school. And maybe you were part of a group that you were all drawing, different things and making different pictures. And maybe that’s an arts and crafts community that you're a part of.
So, try and brainstorm some of those experiences that you've actually shared with other people and that'll point you in the direction of the communities that you are already a part of that you may not even know you're a part of yet.
Ya know, feeling like you belong in a community often begins with a sense of feeling welcomed. If you don’t feel welcomed in a space, it will be even harder to find connection to the people there. Similarly, if others new to our space don’t feel welcomed by us, we might miss the opportunity to connect with them and to share a community with them.
I remember, when I first started in a new school and I had just moved to a new community. After my parents got divorced, I moved around a lot. And so there was the summer that we moved and it meant I needed to start at a brand new school where all the kids already knew each other and I didn't know anybody. It was really scary.
And I remember showing up for my first day of school. And I still remember the moment that the lunch bell rang and I left class, to go to the cafeteria for lunch, to have my lunch. And I remember the hallways were filled with all these people, like hundreds and hundreds of kids, but everyone was in these circles and there were like all these backs towards me. And as I was walking through the hallway, there were just all these tight circles of people talking and laughing and I felt so alone.
And what we all have the opportunity to do is to keep an eye out for when we're in circles with our friends, when we're in circles with our communities, and to make sure there's always room for someone new. Make sure we're always looking outside of our circle, looking for someone that might be a little bit lonely today and making sure that they don't feel alone because we all have the power to be that person that reaches out and help someone else feel a little bit more connected, a little bit more a part of community.
And when you’re a part of a community, you’ll know it. Believe me. In fact, I think you’ll know it just by the way it feels.
I wish, maybe you can hear it in my voice, but I wish you could see me smiling right now because being a part of a community—it just makes you feel like you're a part of something so much bigger than yourself, right?
It helps you feel connected. And in some ways, it just electrifies everything else happening in your life. So I don't know if you've ever seen a 3D movie before, where you put on those fancy glasses and it almost feels like the things from a screener whizzing right towards your face, but being a part of community, having shared experiences with other people, it almost makes a life more three dimensional.
It magnifies everything. So when you're tasting things, when you're feeling things, it's almost like it tastes better or it feels more exciting or everything around you just feels almost amplified in a way when you get to actually share it with others. It also becomes more memorable. If you have an amazing experience, you're walking and the most beautiful rainbow butterfly you've ever seen in your entire life and it lands on your arm, it's like it won't leave.
It's like your new pet butterfly. And it's like, you're walking around everywhere. This butterfly will not leave your arm, but there's no one else around. And nobody else sees this butterfly. It's just you there. And you have no camera. You have no phone. And then it flies away and you try and tell people later, but you can't really explain it. Now imagine if that was in the middle of the park and there were like 50 people that you knew that watched this rainbow amazing glowing butterfly land on you and it was this shared experience that everyone got to like, ooh and ahh at the same time. That's kind of what community feels like.
Right? It's that shared experience. It's so much more memorable and so much more powerful.
I want to end our time together today with a beginning. Shane’s beginning. Or, rather, this book’s beginning.
But also, in a cool way, Shane’s beginning.
[When] I first learned about A Kids Co., Jelani, who kind of was the amazing visionary behind A Kids Co, came to me and said, “You know, you've done some really interesting things, building community. Do you think that, you know, a kid can be a community builder?”
And I said, “Huh? Yeah, absolutely. They can.”
And he was like, “If only they had some kind of manual. If only they knew how to build a community.”
I was like, “I think you're onto something.”
So we decided to write this book, A Kids Book About Community, to help kids out there, it's kind of the book that I wish I had when I was six, seven years old.
And it really does, it helps paint a picture and helps almost be that instruction manual that finally exists for kids to not only find the communities they're already a part of and feel a greater sense of belonging in their world, but also to be community builders and to exude that kind of inclusion and acceptance that, you know, the next generation really has the potential to build.
Each week on A Kids Book About: The Podcast, we talk about the big things going on in your world with a different author from our A Kids Book About series. This week we spoke with Shane Feldman, author of A Kids Book About Community.