Primary school (also known as Key Stage One in the UK) is the first educational home to most children between the ages of 4 and 11. It’s where a lot of the basics of education are laid down, but it still contains that necessary element of fun. Primary school is where lifelong friendships and lifelong skills can be learned in a secure, nurturing environment. But primary schools also serve another purpose which puts them in the heart of any community.
Children are the heart of the family, but they are also the heart of a community. Put simply, communities die out when children leave or are not present. Children grow to be adults who take over the care and nurture of community spirit. Primary school is a large part of that process. Children spend their formative years there, learning to be the people who will protect the community and help it grow into the future.
Socially, primary school years are vital. The environment encourages children to learn how to interact with others. They learn how to make friends, how to fight their corner, how to apologise and also how to show respect, both to peers and adults. The social skills children learn in a primary school playground will set them up for adult life.
They will know when it is appropriate to say sorry, when to lend a hand and when to step back and call in someone wiser to help. They learn to share, to work together to solve problems and they also learn things which may not be immediately apparent, such as when something is funny, what empathy is and how to react appropriately in all manner of situations.
These are skills they will take into the community, will take into work as adults. Manners and morals will help keep a community strong.
Another reason primary schools are vital to a community is their ability to bring groups together. No matter what a person feels is their social standing, when it comes to supporting their children, primary school is a universal leveller.
The school fete, fundraising for equipment, school plays and numerous sporting events all bring out the parents. Often, these types of events bring together people who would not necessarily meet on a day-to-day basis. Friendships, sometimes unlikely, are readily forged over mutual support for a ball team or swapping recipes for muffins. Events at primary school level also do not have the intense pressures associated with high school and this allows parents to have a more relaxed attitude making camaraderie easier to forge.
The other version of primary school get-togethers is the playground. At the beginning and end of school days there are always parents waiting around to pick up children. Over time these parents form groups. They chat, exchange news, talk about the area and what is happening locally and more friendships come out of the community idea.
All these friendships bring the community bond into tighter cohesion via the simple act of walking into a primary school yard.
Another useful thing which happens in a primary school is a combination of a vigilant community, observant educators and the innocence of children.
When there is trouble at home, when a child is suffering, be it from abuse or from poverty, children in the lower age ranges have not learned to hide their unhappiness, and nor do they refrain from commenting in the school-yard. A vigilant community notices the school child who is sullen, bruised, sad, or frequently tries to take food when they think no-one is watching. An observant community will notice the patched clothes, the child who never joins conversations about new toys and the child who is desperate for any kindness or attention. They will step in and do what they can to help.
A community with a primary school at its heart is more likely to have well-balanced children and a network of members who are willing to step up, step in and lend a hand. It will also turn out children who will know how to keep that art of community going as they move on to new pastures.