Imagine being in a place where you feel accepted, supported, and connected to the people around you. Doesn’t it sound like a place you’d feel happy and excited about going to every day? That’s what a classroom community feels like for a child.
Alongside their family environment, a child often first discovers a sense of belonging and connection in a classroom community. Having a positive classroom community is essential for children’s social and emotional well-being and encourages them to participate fully in the classroom, improving learning outcomes.
Building a classroom community is an all-year endeavor that requires planning and resources. Read on to discover why it’s important and how to promote and build one in your program for a successful school year.
What is a classroom community?
A classroom community is a learning space where children feel a sense of belonging and connection to their peers and teachers. It builds relationships among children, between children and teachers, and between teachers and families.
Building a classroom community is a team effort. You must work with your children to create an environment where every class member feels valued, welcome, and confident that their needs will be met. When children feel connected to their community, they trust their peers and teachers to support them and cheer them on.
Why is building a classroom community important?
For children, entering a classroom for the first time can be exciting but scary. They’re joining a new community away from their families, so it’s important that they feel welcome. Building a classroom community helps to keep children more engaged and receptive to learning because they feel safe and valued. When children worry about being bullied or fear for their safety, their learning will suffer.
A safe and welcoming classroom also helps children develop their social and emotional skills. As they spend more time in this type of environment, they will grow in self-confidence and develop positive relationships, decision-making abilities, a sense of identity, and empathy. A classroom community also encourages cooperation, teamwork, and the ability to draw on each other’s skills.
Building a classroom community helps teachers manage classrooms more efficiently. Establishing classroom rules and following a daily routine helps to reduce behavioral issues because children know what behavior is expected of them and what to expect throughout their day. Additionally, giving children responsibilities reduces their dependency on you.
Classroom community also builds trust between teachers and families. Parents and guardians feel confident that their child is in an extension of their loving and accepting home environment. This assures them that their child will thrive in all areas of development.
How to promote classroom community
The first six weeks of the school year are critical to developing connections in the classroom. However, building a classroom community is a year-long undertaking, which you can facilitate with the strategies below:
Start before school starts
Why wait until school starts to build a connection with your children and their families? Start before you even meet them. Send out letters or call them. Introduce yourself and let them know you’re excited about having their child in your class.
Then ask about the child: their interests, likes, and dislikes. Next, ask them to share the child’s favorite photo (particularly where they’re happiest), so you can add it to the class photo wall or bulletin board. Finally, ask them how they prefer to keep in touch.
Give children responsibilities
In addition to daily tasks like hanging up their backpacks and putting out their lunchboxes, children should also have other responsibilities. Assigning classroom jobs helps children learn about independence and responsibility for their environment. In addition, they learn how to work with their peers and see how teamwork gets tasks done quicker.
Assign the children different jobs each week, so they understand how to do each job. You can also have two children doing the same job so they can learn to work together to complete a task. Create a jobs chart so that everyone can see who’s doing each job for the week. When children know you trust them to be leaders, they feel proud and work toward maintaining that trust.
Make the rules together
Making classroom rules together gives children a sense of accountability and makes them feel valued. They’ll be more inclined to follow rules they helped create than those you’ve established. Make the rules short and simple so they’re easy to remember.
Discuss important values like patience, respect, and honesty, and talk to the children regularly about how classroom rules keep everyone safe. When behavioral issues come up, discuss them with the children and ask for their input on possible solutions while communicating your expectations as the teacher. Then, you can revise the rules when appropriate throughout the year.
Establish class routines
Predictability in the classroom gives your children a sense of control and helps them feel safe. When there’s an orderly flow in the day and they know what to expect, transitions from one lesson or activity to another become smoother. In addition, class routines reduce disruptive behavior, meaning you’ll maximize instruction time. Also, your interactions with the children will be more pleasant when you're not correcting them constantly.
Consider drafting a classroom schedule before the school year starts. The first few weeks will require a lot of practice until the routines stick. Some children might even test the usual boundaries, but keep practicing and explaining your expectations because children ultimately thrive developmentally and academically when they know what’s going on in the classroom.
Encourage peer scaffolding
Encouraging your children to help one another in learning is a good way to build community in the classroom. When a child who has mastered counting from 1 to 10 supports another who’s struggling, the struggling child develops confidence and learns that their peers are supportive. These types of interactions develop into children voluntarily helping each other in class.
One way to encourage peer scaffolding is by using the “Ask Three Before Me” strategy. For example, a child struggling to open a jar comes to you for help. You tell the child to ask three other children first; if they can’t help, they can return to you. This strategy encourages independence, confidence, and communication among the children.
Display the children’s work
Although teacher-made and store-bought materials are nice to have in the classroom, ensure that most of the displays in your classroom are made by your children. Seeing their work displayed makes them feel important. You’re telling them, “I value you” and “I value your work.” Ensure that each child has work on display and that it’s at the children’s eye level so they can see it.
Children’s work may include personal artwork, writing, charts, or group projects. You can also display family and pet photographs, especially at the beginning of the school year. Seeing their family members in class can make their transition into school easier. These photos also open conversation among the children about their families and pets.
Building a classroom community is a difficult task without the involvement of the children’s families. The family is a child’s first community, so their family’s participation in the classroom community is essential. Keep them in the loop about what’s happening with their children in the classroom. Regular communication by email, video conferencing, or physical meetings gives everyone a complete picture of the child’s developmental milestones and accomplishments.
By staying in communication regularly, teachers and families can work together to solve any issues as they arise. Let the families know they’re welcome to take part in classroom activities. For example, they can teach an introductory cooking lesson, read a story, teach a skill or craft, or share about a cultural holiday. Imagine the pride a child will feel when their family is an active part of the classroom community.
Remember that some families won’t be able to meet you during the week because of work commitments or their schedule doesn’t allow it. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t monitor their child’s activities. A tool like brightwheel’s daily activity report feature will enable you to share real-time updates like milestones, photos, and videos to keep families updated on their child’s day-to-day activities.
Be an active participant and role model
When building a classroom community, you’re not just instructing. You’re participating, and this participation encourages your children to participate too. Share your experiences and allow your children to see you as a person, not just their teacher. Share your feelings, admit your mistakes, and ask for help. When children see you as a learner, they’ll feel like you understand them and find you more relatable.
Classroom community building activities
Building a classroom community takes intentional effort. Your daily classroom routines should include activities to help the children feel like they belong. Here are some activities to consider:
All About Me
This activity is excellent for the start of the school year, as it helps you get to know your class and helps the children get to know each other. However, you can use this activity all year long to encourage acceptance and respect for one another. All About Me activities celebrate each child: their race, culture, unique characteristics, abilities, and family.
Have each child draw a picture of their family and pets and allow them to talk about them with the class. You can also create an All About Me poster using a simple template to capture each child’s primary details and interests, including their name, age, birthday, favorite color, favorite food, favorite animal, and favorite book.
Morning meetings set the tone for the day and help children transition from home to school so they can settle in and feel like they’re part of a community.
You can start each morning meeting by greeting and welcoming each child and having the children greet one another. Then you can sing a song like, If You’re Happy and You Know It to get them excited about the day ahead. Next, discuss the day’s schedule, and if you’re using new tools or props for the day’s activities, have them look at and touch the objects to get a feel of what’s happening for the day. Then let them ask questions.
Choose one day of the week for this activity. You can call it Kindness Monday or Kindness Wednesday, for example. On this day, you can have the children sit in a circle and pass a ball or bean bag to each person in the circle. As each child passes the ball or bean bag to the person beside them, they compliment that person by saying what they like about that person or mentioning positive attributes about them. This activity teaches children how to be polite and show each other compassion. It also builds children’s confidence and teaches them to appreciate the differences they see in others.
Morning affirmations aren’t just for adults; they’re also essential for children. They help children develop a growth mindset and change how they think about themselves. For example, affirmations like “I am strong,” “I can do hard things,” “I believe in myself,” “I am nice to my friends,” and “I have great ideas” will give children the confidence boost they need to engage in learning and socialize positively with their peers.
You can write out the affirmations and display them in the classroom so that the children can say them as a group as well as independently. When children repeat these affirmations regularly, their brains will take them in as facts.
Reciting affirmations also translates into how children talk to each other. For example, suppose a child feels defeated by an activity, saying they can’t do it. In that case, another child may encourage them, telling them they can do it because their daily affirmations say they can.
Games are a fun way to build community. For example, communication games like the telephone game build a child’s listening and thinking skills. Sit in a circle with the children. Then whisper a word, phrase, or sentence into the ear of the child sitting to your right and have them whisper it to the child next to them until it reaches the last child in the circle. The last child should say the word or phrase out loud so that everyone can hear how much it has changed.
Build a welcoming space for your preschoolers
Building a classroom community requires planning and commitment. Spending a week or two planning before the beginning of the school year will be time well spent. Choose strategies and activities that suit your program and your children. Ultimately, your children will thrive as you, the children, and their families work together to build a safe and positive learning environment together.