One day I was mentally wandering through ideas, searching for the next great homeschool project for our kids. Or perhaps I was musing about ways to connect with our neighbors. I guess I don’t remember my exact train of thought, but when I landed on the idea of The Neighborhood News, I knew I was on to something good. Something good for our kids. Something good for our neighborhood. In fact, it seemed possible, even from the beginning, that The Neighborhood News might be the very thing that would make the hodge-podge collection of homes stretched along our dead-end country road feel more like an actual neighborhood.
An Assignment with a Purpose
In the fall of 2020 my little homeschool troop and I got busy. We brainstormed ideas, interviewed neighbors, and conducted an opinion poll. We wrote, edited, and formatted. By the end of the month, the first installment of The Neighborhood News was ready for publication. Thirteen color copies were printed and distributed door to-door to the surprise and delight of our neighbors.
We have more or less followed the same process every month since. Putting out the newsletter has become a part of our monthly rhythm, a recurring assignment that is chock full of meaning, purpose, and creative challenge.
Many times our monthly “staff meetings” (impromptu affairs over lunch or in the car) begin with blank stares and panic—Maybe this will be the month the newsletter flops! Yet without fail, creative minds prevail, and ideas for articles emerge from our brainstorming sessions. Sometimes there is an obvious lead story—something big going on in the neighborhood like a graduation, a new neighbor, or a backyard wedding. Other times we’ve highlighted special hobbies or skills; tractor collecting, quilting, or Spartan racing.
A “back page article” is often seasonal and usually includes an opinion poll: Which neighborhood critters cause the most trouble? Which are the most enjoyable? (It is interesting to note that deer won both categories!) Or, What is your favorite sign of spring? (Bring on the flowers!). Scanned artwork, Bible verses, jokes, birthday announcements, classifieds, or trivia questions are optional fun features that are worked in here and there so that each edition fills one sheet of paper, front and back, and is loaded with color and cheer.
As I watch the kids deliver their publication each month, I think about what a blessing it is for them to have an audience who reads, enjoys, and deeply appreciates their work. Because of this, writing lessons–whether about reporting with accuracy, word choice, or punctuation–have immediate, real-life applications, and the motivation shifts from merely getting the assignment done to getting it done well.
The Makings of a Neighborhood
When considering what makes a neighborhood a neighborhood, there may be many possible answers, but one is undoubtedly this: the presence of a neighborhood news source. An article in the Covington News outlines the many benefits a local newspaper brings to a community including; 1) serving as the primary source of information regarding local events, 2) spurring people on to community service and involvement, and 3) growing a sense of connection.
After nearly two years’ worth of Neighborhood News publications under our belts, we have observed many ways The News has indeed fostered connection, inspired care, and instilled a sense of pride and unity among the residents of our little community. Consider the following comments:
“I saw Bob the other day when we were out walking our dogs, and we stopped to chat about how much we love the kids’ newspaper.”
“I didn’t realize someone had moved in already down at the end of the road until I saw it in The News. I’m going to take him some cookies.”
“I guess I’m famous now! I was mentioned in The Neighborhood News!”
Many words could be used to describe The Neighborhood News—newsy, informative, cute, fun—but perhaps the most important word to describe it is ours. For those of us who live on 43rd St, it is our newsletter—written about us, for us, by children living among us. To share something that is exclusively ours goes a long way in making a group of people an us.
In summary, a neighborhood newsletter not only provides the publishers with meaningful work, but it also has the power to transform a smattering of individual homes into a neighborhood. That sounds like good news to me. Perhaps we should shout it from the rooftops! Or, better yet, let’s print it on the front page of The Neighborhood News.
Image by gpointstudio