In order to create a strong sense of community, the teacher of the preschool classroom needs to start right out the day that school begins. On that first day, after introducing yourself and taking roll count, begin right away with a discussion about communities. Explain that this classroom is itself a community. Ask students to think about where they live. Are there other people around? Do they know any other families in their neighborhood? Talk about the rules our families have at home. Why are there rules? What does it mean to be safe? After this discussion, a great supporting activity is to come up with some classroom rules together. Really discuss these rules clearly and openly, guiding the students to come up with rules around safety and fairness. After completing the classroom rules, start a community bulletin board in which any and all things relating to community will be prominently hung and displayed.
Next, prepare a project that helps students emphasize and identify their own unique individuality. Explain that all communities are full of many different people, and that everybody can be friends despite what they look like or where they come from. Handing out crayons, markers, and large pieces of white cardstock paper, students should be encouraged to draw pictures of themselves and their families. Make sure to point out that, though everybody’s family is different in many ways, everybody does has a family. This activity strengthens the similarities among everybody in our community and helps to solidify the feeling of community inside the classroom. These pictures can be the boarder for the community bulletin board.
Kids love show and tell style activities, so every Friday, I used to set aside time for show-and-tell at the end of the day. However, I had one stipulation: the subject had to do something with their family or culture. This is a hard concept to explain to the kids, but by sending home a letter describing your intention to emphasize the value of community in the classroom, many parents got involved. Kids began showing up with pictures of their grandparents, hats and other articles of clothing from their father’s work, and even money from other countries. Continuously explain that all of these people lived in communities around the world. I would then hang up the photos of various family members in our “community” bulletin board to remind us all of the importance of families in communities.
Having students bring in foreign money gave me an idea that I tried in my daycare: we made our own currency. We started out using popsicle sticks that each of the kids colored a certain color. Each color represented some kind of a privilege the students had to “buy”. For instance, if red popsicle sticks represented going to the bathroom, they had to “buy” a trip to the bathroom by spending their stick. If they didn’t have a stick, they could either work to earn the stick by cleaning or helping around the class or they earned them as incentives for good behavior. Within a few weeks, the kids began to relate the importance of money as it related to the entire community. They also began to understand why, in all communities, parents had to go to work.
It is so important to remember that classrooms are a community. After all, a classroom is a group of people who follow the same rules of conduct, explore the same ideas, and share the same needs and wants. Most of all, just like in society, everyone in the class wants to be treated fairly. In a community, people are made to feel safe, secure, and equal while simultaneously embracing their own unique qualities and cultures. In the classroom, the teacher can support these feelings with the few simple yet effective classroom activities detailed here.