NAEYC’s Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 is a book I encourage every early childhood educator to read. For many years, I wasn’t even aware the book existed. Now, it is my go-to resource. I especially appreciate their guideline about creating a caring community of learners. Children learn and develop best when they are part of a community where everyone cares about them. NAEYC discusses several ways that teachers can ensure that happens.
First, get to know your students. It sounds simple, but do you really take the time to do it? Talking to children and finding out about what interests them is the first step. Work to discover each child’s learning style as well as the abilities he/she brings to the classroom. Finally, be respectful of differences and truly value each child you teach.
Next, relationships are paramount. It is your job to be warm, positive, caring and responsive to provide the context for students to learn and develop. Young children are constructing an understanding of the world around them by interacting with it. Therefore, create opportunities for children to play, talk and work with both children and adults.
Also, teach children to respect each other and be accountable for behavior. This does not mean punishment and consequences. Rather, set clear, reasonable limits, teach and model them and then be consistent in reinforcing them. Listening to children and acknowledging their feelings shows that you are responsive. See yourself as the role model and work to guide conflict resolution and problem solving. When children act out, they are sending a message that they need help and that is the only way they know how to react to the situation. Provide the time and experience for children to develop the responsibility and self-regulation necessary to handle difficulties.
Finally, provide a physical and psychological environment that is safe and healthy. This means allowing time for outdoor play, meals and rest. It also means creating a climate where children can feel secure and relaxed as well as excited about learning.
None of this is rocket science, but it does cause us to reflect on our current practices. Are we so caught up in teaching the academics that we have forgotten the basics of community building? If that’s the case, choose something you feel is missing from your classroom to target. Your classroom will become the place where not only your students want to be, but where you want to be too!