Hundreds Gather in Tacoma to Explore What it Means to Build a Child-Centered Community


By Holly Bamford Hunt
Bamford Foundation director
Board member, Children’s Museum of Tacoma
Member, First 5 FUNdamentals

Screen Shot 2014-11-22 at 5.33.11 PM“What if Tacoma were a city where traces of children were abundant?”
“What if we did stuff with children instead of for children?”
“What if children were valued for being, not doing?”
“What if families had support and resources before they knew they needed it?”
“What if child’s play was valued by adults?”
“What if everyone had the invitation to play?”
“What if all children had dreams and adults to cheer them on?”
“What if children helped to solve our community problems?”

On Sept. 23, 2014, the Symposium on our Youngest Citizens: Building a Child Centered Community brought together almost 300 people: community and education leaders; early learning professionals; city officials; parents; teachers; members of the business, civic planning, youth development and nonprofit communities; faith community leaders; and interested parties from other counties.
The event was presented by the Children’s Museum of Tacoma, a member of the First 5 FUNdamentals of Pierce County, in partnership with the University of Washington-Tacoma.

What inspired the symposium? Last fall, the Children’s Museum of Tacoma coordinated a 14-member cross-community group to travel to Reggio Emilia, Italy, for a study tour of the city and early learning centers. The group, which included people interested in advocating for young children and their spaces, including First 5 FUNdamentals executive director Susan Barbeau, was profoundly struck by the absolute sense of respect and regard for the child throughout the city. They observed how the system of free municipal early learning centers worked seamlessly with families, community organizations and businesses, and how the system was grounded in the firm belief that young children are contributing citizens of the community.
So, the group thought, why not start a critical dialogue by asking our own residents about their individual and collective hopes and dreams for our community’s children? The group asked: “What resources and systems can we celebrate and build on? What do our actions say about how we value children? What actions do our hopes for children inspire us to take?”
The September symposium featured a series of provocative “lightning talks” that brought focus to topics as diverse as:

  • Community responsibility for the well-being of children
  • Paying attention to creativity and the whole child in education
  • How to create authentic support for parents from a city/business perspective
  • Involving children deeply in community problem-solving

These “what if” talks were followed by hands-on table activities and documentation of community members’ thoughts, questions and intentions. Ben Mardell, professor of early childhood education at Lesley University, and Alfie Kohn, national author and speaker on education and parenting, provided their insights on the idea of children as citizens. Mardell and Kohn engaged in a lively conversation moderated by Tacoma News Tribune Publisher David Zeeck. At the conclusion, participants considered how their thinking had changed and how they would move forward.
The Children’s Museum of Tacoma, the symposium planning group and community partners such as First 5 FUNdamentals are carefully considering the responses of participants (and also a community survey) to provide follow-up to the symposium. It may take the form of written and video documentation of this first event, smaller workshops, neighborhood conversations and opinion writing. Also on the table: further symposiums that include children in event design and execution!



  • Go here to watch videos from the symposium, read about the speakers and complete a community survey.
  • Go here to read the “what if” questions generated by our community members.
  • Go here to get more resources on Reggio Emilia and early learning, as well as the work of the Children’s Museum of Tacoma.