My favourite use of my taxes is the Ontario Early Years Centres. These are large rooms, or a grouping of rooms, set up in cities and towns and communities across the province; nearly anywhere you go you can find one. They are designed for children from birth to six years old. They have a large play area, with innumerable toys, easels for painting, and art and play-doh stations. Some of the centres have a separate "running room" - a large gym space with tricycles and balls and mats and climbing equipment. Many centres offer classes, from song time for toddlers to parenting workshops. Although the hours vary, they are generally open six days a week, and sometimes even an evening or two. And all of this is completely free.
We frequent the centres usually once a week, sometimes more often throughout the cold wintry days. We have one centre we can walk to, and two within a 15 minute drive. We visit them all on a regular basis; we know the employees by name and they know my kids by name. They often know what is going on in our life, and I know much about their families also.
Unfortunately, once your kids age out of this type of play area, there is not much left for them. Some cities offer Parks and Recreation courses at a reasonable fee, but in our town if you aren't up for swimming, hockey, lacrosse or soccer, you are out of luck. But even that small fee seems to be too much, since the middle class is fast disappearing and many families couldn't afford such a luxury as these activities.
It tugs at my heart strings for free activities. I have long wanted to offer free music classes, a dream that might become a reality this fall. I have wanted to start a book club at the library, since the only book club in town requires you to buy the book (more money). I can't wait to be able to get into our local school and lead a choir, or introduce the kids to different instruments, or start a debating team. The things about which I am passionate and of which I have some degree of talent, I have the desire to share freely. It just doesn't seem right to charge for something that moves me so deeply; instead I feel the obligation to share that love so that others may also discover it in themselves.
Pondering today, once again, on these emotions, led my thoughts down a path about how lovely it would be to open a building where school-aged children could come and explore their creativity on their own terms. With officials having decided that the arts are not a viable economic pursuit and therefore unnecessary in the school's curriculum, children have less and less exposure to things like visual art, music, dance, drama, film and photography. And yet I know how important these are to personal growth. They are ways to explore oneself, to find inner peace and strength, to build confidence, to inspire creativity. Certainly one might be able to perform menial tasks in the workplace without these skills; but there is no denying that to succeed beyond that requires a person to think beyond the rote memorization taught in schools and passed off as "education."
So today I record that "I have a dream." I have a dream of opening a free centre, like the Early Years Centres, where school-aged children could come and freely explore the arts. They would have access to instruments and sheet music, art books and supplies, a gym area to express themselves physically, and adult artists to teach and inspire. The logistics of it are a little beyond me right now; but certainly I could hope to convince government, schools and local businesses and towns of the benefits, right? There must be others out there who see the benefits of the arts, and mourn with me their disappearance from the lives of many children today. And if I could get them opened up all over the province...or even throughout the country! Yes, I do have a dream. And although in the busy days of young motherhood I may not be able to do more than dream right now, I hope that down the road I pull out these dreams again (and the others I have recorded) and get to work!