One of the major lessons for children in a quality early education program is to understand the importance of community. Great value needs to be placed upon building strong communities within each classroom, where children learn to work and play together.
By building a strong community atmosphere in the classroom, we can teach children to be caring learners. The community should also extend beyond the children to include families, staff, outside community resources and extended members of the educational community. By building community in the early childhood classroom, you build an environment where students feel safe to learn, grow and be themselves. Here are a few ways that we can teach community in our classrooms:
Community is feeling valued. We must value all students regardless of abilities or background and work to discover special points within each student and help them build from these strengths.
Safety is an important element of community. We underscore to children the need to stay together so we can take care of each other.
Community is supporting and caring. We need to work to help children understand ways to be kind - being gentle, sharing, welcoming each other to play. Our teachers and other adults work on supporting children's efforts at caring, as their first tries are not always successful. Hugs between toddlers can easily end up with one or both children on the ground. Sometimes this is fine; sometimes another hug is needed for comfort!
Community is respect. This element is very important. We work with every child to respect everyone in the classroom and resolve issues. Adults must model this behavior and as students see teachers and parents treating one another with respect it will increase the overall level of respect within the classroom.
Empathy is also an essential element of community. Young as they are, these children are already learning to be aware of and concerned for each other. When one child cries, most of the children stop to find out what is wrong, and only resume their activities when they know that child is being cared for and comforted. The children are also learning to share the attention of the adults.
Community is also about accepting our differences. One child may not want to play a game with another, or may just want some time alone. We work on getting to know each other, through sharing, singing and playing together. We learn and communicate our likes and dislikes stopping to notice each other's interests.
Community is about helping one another. We constantly model and recognize the children's efforts at helping, and we see more and more helpfulness. In our cooperative center, children also watch their parents participating in the community through working in the classroom, developing relationships outside of school, and attending and helping with center events.