Creating a Classroom Community
Updated: Feb 17
It is getting close to back to school time. Well, I know some of you are there already. But, I am at the part of summer vacation where I am a little (or more) sad at the prospect of giving up this wonderful freedom that is summer vacation. But, I am also starting to get excited for the children whom I will soon come to know and love, and as I start to think about ideas I would like to try in the coming year. (Could this finally be the year I introduce woodworking into my classroom?)
You too might be thinking about how best to start the year off right, How to get to know your students, and put some important practices into place.
As the school year begins, my co-teachers and I focus on two main things. First, we want the children to feel comfortable saying goodbye to their parents and/or caregivers. Even if they cry, will they let us console them? If the answer is yes, then we are on our way.
Second, we want to create a classroom community where everyone feels welcome and that they have a place within it.
To accomplish these two goals, we spend out first days (and all of our days, really) talking, playing, singing, and comforting young children. And we read lots and lots of books. Books that tell stories about going away and coming back to the people you love.
Owl Babies is my personal favorite book about a some baby owls awaiting their Momma's return.
We also always start our year with two hand made class books. In one, Who is at School Today? Each child simply has a page with their name and their photo. That is all. That is all it takes to draw a young child into a book. This book helps them to learn the names of their new classmates. As they look through the pages of the book, they call out to each other, "This is your page! Look, you are at the beach!" And slowly, friendships and community are created.
We read this book together on the rug on some of the first days of school. Pretty much each and every one will smile when the book is turned to their page.
We use children's photos on the bulletin boards, in their cubbies, and in these book pages. Nothing says "you belong here and this space is yours" like being part of the decor and literature.
The other book, has the same exact text as the first book. Each child has a page with their name, and a photo, but this time their page includes a photo of their family. Like the first book, Our Families teaches the children about each other, and it sparks conversation between children. And, for the children still working through the emotions of saying goodbye to their family when they come to school, it comforts them, as they see the photos of those they miss, and as they talk about each person pictured.
And while we build this community and comfort our children they are learning something pretty powerful about books; They are a jumping off point for talking, sharing, and connecting.
As you can see from the photo above, these books can be created using nothing but cardstock, a photo, and a label. But if you like to create things that are a bit more colorful, and can be done entirely on a computer than I have two templates available to help you create your books.
Who is at School Today is free to download. Simply insert your photos into the template, type your students names, and print. I like to trim the white borders, but it is not necessary.
Our Families is available here and can be used in the same way.
These two books stay on our bookeshelf all year long. Every single day. I have seen children read and enjoy them in April as much as they did in September. Because when a book resonates with you, you can read it over and over again.