Tag Archives: family

Building a Classroom Community


One morning in my preschool classroom, while everyone was busy playing and learning, a student proclaimed to anyone who was listening, “I love everyone in our class because, well, that’s just what families do!” That little voice has stuck with me for many years as one of the highlights of my teaching career. When my students referred to our small group as their preschool family, I felt such pride and joy. My goal was to create an environment where my students felt loved and valued, free to take risks and free to make mistakes. We were far from perfect; there were still tears, frustration, and other big emotions. But at the end of the day, we loved our little community we had created.

When children feel comfortable in their environment, they are more receptive to learning. As child care providers, it is our responsibility to facilitate the building and maintenance of a positive classroom community. Here are some ideas to help create a “family feel” in your classroom or center!

Let the classroom be a reflection of the students: When creating this positive environment, children need to feel a sense of belonging in the space. An easy way to accomplish this is to let them see themselves throughout the classroom! Pictures and work samples hung at their level are an easy way to accomplish this. My students loved gathering together and watching a digital picture frame I had loaded with classroom memories! Allowing children to bring in pictures of their families and pets can build a wonderful home/school connection and provide a sense of comfort as well.

Have fun together! Use games and activities to work on team building skills! Group games can be a fun way to practice sharing, communication, and simply help your students build relationships with one another.

Involve families: Making sure to include families as part of the classroom community is important as well. Inviting them into the space at drop off and pick up, including them in special events and parties, or even asking for volunteers to come read to the class are all simple ways to help families feel welcome. I loved sending home questionnaires for families to fill out at the beginning of the year so I could learn more about the child and how the families saw the children! Consistent communication between school and home is crucial. We provided families with “Ask me!” questions weekly, which gave families the knowledge and language to have conversations with the students and bridge the gap between school and home. 

Show them they are an integral part of the classroom: Classroom jobs and responsibilities are an easy way to let each child build into the community. The classroom doesn’t run as smoothly without them! If they are absent, let them know that they were missed and you are so glad they are back! Build personal relationships by spending quality, one-on-one time getting to know each student as an individual. When you show an interest in their lives and embrace the uniqueness of each child, everyone feels as if they belong in the community!

De-stressing the Stressors of Drop-Off Time

drop-off-timeWhen I first began teaching preschool, I had a little boy who always struggled with drop-off each morning. He was happy to see his friends and always gave me a big hug, but when Mom and Dad would say, “It’s time for us to go!” he would burst into alligator tears. They stayed, played, ate goodbye snacks, hugged, gave 10 kisses, and he still was devastated when they walked out of the classroom door. One instance after a goodbye snack day as I was holding him, he dropped his vanilla wafer as we were waving out the window. I had a hair appointment that evening and went straight from the school. As the stylist was washing my hair, she found the cookie in my hair.

It is very hard when a child is upset about leaving their family for the day. It is also hard on parents and caregivers when they have to leave their child for the day while they go to work. Our job as professionals is to help both parents and children find a place where each feels comfortable and can trust the environment will be a safe space. Below are some helpful tips to encourage families and their children that where they go and who they choose for child care is a safe and comfortable fit.

Get to know the families. Before the child even starts in your program, invite the family to come and meet you several times to check out the space at different times. This way they get to see what happens at different times of the day while the child is allowed to explore the space.

Talk about daily routines. Talking about what happens during your day with the family helps them to know how to talk about what happens at home with the child. Parents will know how to talk about the day before the child comes to child care. Newsletters and emails are great to let parents know what is coming up for the week or month. The more consistent you communicate, the better prepared everyone will be and know what to expect.

Offer several activities to transition. Not every child is ready to come into a group of people first thing when they get to child care. Sometimes over-stimulation can make anxiety even worse for some children. Make sure that you have some welcoming activities that can be offered for a child to play to help them come in at their pace. In my classroom I had a “Me Space.” It was a canopied area filled with pillows, books, sensory bottles, stuffed animals—items that were calming and comforting to the students who needed it.

Talk it through. For some of my students, I had to talk to them one on one as their parent placed them in my arms. Addressing how the child’s feels is the proper way to start giving the support they need in this stressful transition. For example, “I see tears on your face. Can you tell me how you feel when Mommy leaves for work? I miss my mommy when I am at work too.” Then if they wanted to, I would also give them the option of being able to wave. “Let’s go to the window to wave to her!” I or my aide had to hold some of the children for waving goodbye until their families were out of sight, in the car, and down the road. When you talk out feelings and explain processes it helps eliminate stress and gives the child words to express how they feel. They are still learning academically as well as socially and emotionally.

With these few tips, working towards a stress-free drop-off will get easier for all involved!

Building a Foundation of Trust

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

– Stephen R. Covey

A friend of mine recently enrolled her two children in child care for the first time. She’s a very private person, but chose to share with the child care provider that she was going through a divorce. What she didn’t choose to share was that her husband and the children’s father is an abusive man. Does it surprise you that she would withhold this information? I wasn’t surprised. My friend needs to learn to trust her child care provider, and that process takes time.

Building a foundation of trust is critical for all families, and for all child care providers who hope to have a positive relationship with the parents of the children in their care. What can we do to lay the foundation? We need to be patient and consistent, and most of all we need to keep a focus on good communication with families.

First we need to be sure to meet with families in a safe and comfortable environment. Give yourself enough time to exchange ideas and information, and listen with an open mind in all your communications with families. Be sure to clarify expectations and share honestly. If parents ask you a question that you don’t know the answer to, be honest. Let the family know you’ll get back to them with the information, and then do it!

It’s so important to respect the parents’ levels of knowledge, understanding or interest. When we make assumptions about a parent, however innocently, we run the risk of destroying our chances to develop a strong relationship with that parent. For example, don’t always assume a busy parent is a disinterested parent. They could be distracted that day by one of life’s many other challenges… I know some days I am!

Remember that parents are their child’s first teachers, and when they feel that we respect and trust them, they are more likely to respect and trust us.

Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

There’s a snappy tune by Kool and the Gang called Celebration. It goes like this, “there’s a party going on right here, a celebration to last throughout the years. So bring your good times and your laughter too…” Sound familiar? You may remember busting a move to this tune on the dance floor at a wedding, and maybe now it’s stuck in your head. The messages in this song are clear “celebrate often, have fun, be with friends, everything’s going to be alright.”

It’s this time of year when we often take pause to be thankful, to celebrate and to cherish our loved ones. While the turkeys, festive decorations and family gatherings evoke a feeling of togetherness and celebration, I wonder, how do we make that feeling last all year long?

I recall from my days as the director of a child care center how easy it is to get bogged down in the everyday happenings in the center. I managed my time well enough so that I could fit in payroll, classroom observations, newsletters, meetings, purchasing and all of the other “important” tasks of the director. I realize now, years later, that I didn’t carve out enough time for the most important thing: celebrating with and giving praise to my staff. My staff was hard-working, dedicated and loyal. Sure, we had staff meetings where accolades were given, meals provided, and an annual holiday celebration. But I can honestly say, I don’t think I spent enough time celebrating the everyday small things.

I still have work to do in this area myself. I guess I am issuing a challenge to myself, and maybe to you too. We all have it inside of us to celebrate. We know this because we go wild for birthdays and other holidays. Can we make a commitment to celebrate even the smallest good thing? Imagine the positive effect that could come from creating a culture of care and celebration in your workplace. This may seem like a very “Pollyanna” idea, but positivity only breeds more positivity.

When January rolls around, our stomachs and souls full, will you join me (and Kool and the Gang, of course) in celebrating all year round?

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.

-Robert Brault

For Children, Family is Culture

After writing my blog on the tourist approach to holidays in the classroom and reading the comments, I was inspired to have a conversation with 4C’s Debra Chin. She had enough to say on the subject to write a blog of her own…

As a mom who is raising two American-born Taiwanese/Chinese children in the mid-west, I do my best to pass down my family’s traditions and partner with schools to enhance my boys’ exploration of their heritage.  When they were little, I fostered their learning with an environment where they could continue experiencing our family culture and language through many daily activities. They went to the weekend Chinese language school. They learned to play Kong-Fu and lion dance. I took them to all of the Chinese festivals, walking from stand to stand, hoping they would learn about the culture where they came from.

When my parents lived in Cincinnati, I took the boys to their home during the Chinese New Year,  following our family traditions to have them worship our ancestors. They would Kou-tou to dad and mom (juniors do a kou-tou to their elders to respectfully express their gratitude or wish elders happy new year; in our family, kou-tou consists of two bows in kneeling positions) and respectfully receive the red envelopes from them (red envelopes are mainly presented at social and family gatherings such as weddings or on holidays. The color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to scare away evil spirits. Inside of the envelope, money is placed as a gift).

Despite my efforts to include aspects of Chinese culture in their lives, one of my boys wrote a poem about his family years later that shocked me. I thought for sure he was going to mention something about the Chinese New Year, but I was so surprised to read of the many other experiences that he had embraced! He wrote, “ I am from a kitchen with awesome smells of big, juicy watermelon slipping in my throat, and cheesy, sausage pizzas… I am from a family full of laughing Thanksgivings ripping turkey from each other… I am from a family with terrific Christmases with lots of presents in enchanting wrapping paper….”

What children have experienced about their family culture could be very different from what we might expect.  My boys have not witnessed a so-called real life Chinese New Year. The loud sounds of firecrackers and dragon dance are foreign to them, as are many of the other things that we have seen in the media about the Chinese New Year.  Having a theme about Chinese New Year in their preschool program based on what we might learn from books or media, thinking that would support their family’s culture, would not be relevant to their experiences. Other preschool children might develop misconceptions about the cultures that are foreign to them . As Kim stated in her blog, a celebration that is merely a “generic understanding of a culture communicates to children that all Jewish people must do this, or there’s only one way to celebrate Christmas or Kwanzaa. It’s not accurate, and it’s not developmentally appropriate.”

What my boys remember about the holidays is what we have been doing here in Cincinnati.  We gathered together with our friends who came here as foreign students; they had no family around, so they joined my husband and I and our children. We took turns hosting potluck parties. That’s what the boys remember, these holidays with friends. Chinese New Year is just another school day for them.

Some first generation families celebrate differently than families in their homeland, and every family is different.  I agree with Kim that “a better way to enrich your program with culture is to find out what holidays the families of the children in your program celebrate.” In a comment, Jenni suggested that  “you might include a book whose primary topic is not the holiday celebration, but in which the celebration occurs.” This is a meaningful way to integrate cultures into everyday experiences for young children. Through this type of learning environment, children are encouraged to share and explore their family’s culture as well as those of their friends.

What an honor to learn from each of you. Have a great new year!

Where Do Words Come From?

Learning is a mysterious thing. How did you come to know that when you look up it is the sky that you see? Or that filling a cup too full of liquid will cause it to overflow? When children learn language, it works the same way.

I found an article in the New York Times about children’s language development recently, and it made me wonder. I asked our infant and toddler specialist about how children develop language, and she said “bathe the children in language, don’t drown them.” I like that. I immediately pictured an adult talking with a child rather than telling the child what to do. She told me about a study that compared the development of children whose parents only talked directly to them (“put your shoes away”, “eat supper”, “sit down”) to those who had conversations with them.  The children who had conversations were significantly more developed in language and communication than the children who were given directives only. 

The article supports what Christine said and the author gives simple advice to parents and caregivers to help boost children’s language development:  “Talk to your child about what they’re focused on. Read to your child often. If they’re in a bilingual home, speak to the child and read to the child in the language that you’re most comfortable with. Speak clearly and naturally and use real words. Show excitement when the child speaks.”

Hmmmmm, I think we can do that.