S. Evelyn Cimesa | February 11, 2016 | Social and Emotional Learning
For young children, the classroom is a second home. They spend up to 30 hours a week in this space with peers and teachers, and have access to a plethora of learning resources, art supplies, games, and toys.
Every child brings something new to the table: they’ve all had different life experiences that have shaped who they are, and they have learned a variety of life lessons. They each have their own unique sense of identity.
The ideal classroom is a space where each child feels supported, nurtured, and safe both individually and as a collective. You want to celebrate their differences while creating a sense of community within the classroom.
Children who feel a sense of identity in a group are, generally speaking, the most well-adjusted and successful in school. With each interaction they develop communication skills: they learn about themselves and others, and they learn how to express their feelings and thoughts, and they learn how to collaborate with others. Your classroom is the stage for all of these interactions. Focus on creating the perfect environment to facilitate a sense of community and togetherness.
I often get asked how to help children feel safe in a new space, and how to promote a sense of acceptance and understanding in a classroom. So, let’s take a look at some elements that allow children to feel safe, supported, and welcome in their new classroom community.
Your students need to see themselves reflected in the classroom. Have them put up their projects and photos of their family and pets. You can also have them make an “identity book” to introduce themselves to the classroom. This way, they can introduce themselves and discover things about their classmates.
Students like familiar toys, games, and books. Incorporate some of these into your classroom. Of course, some materials may be below their learning level, but they provides a nice baseline for future progress. For example, a teacher could say: “Awesome! You really worked hard at that puzzle and completed it. Let’s try something a little bit harder next time!”
Colours and textures evoke emotions in children. Fill your classroom with warm, inviting colours and feature lots of pillows, soft toys, and sensory bins and activities.
Bright colours, such as yellows and blues, evoke positive emotions within children. Certain textures and natural objects accomplish the same calming effect. Items like flowers, plush animals, and malleable substances like paint, clay, and sand are quite commonly featured in classrooms because children interact well with them. Try to incorporate a variety of different textiles, toys, and learning materials to make your classroom feel inviting on a psychological level.
Children need to feel the same sense of trust in the classroom as they do at home. Teach your students how to express their thoughts, feelings, and frustrations while being mindful of other people’s feelings. Teach them how to really listen and hear what the other person is saying. Teach them the importance of respecting boundaries. And reward them for successful communication.
Routines help establish familiarity: children know what to expect and feel confident and capable when performing these activities. Feature a large schedule in the classroom that is easily accessible for your students.
Ultimately, the essential element in creating a community in the classroom is you. How you interact with each child has more of an influence than the amount of materials in your classroom. If you nurture your students with kindness and compassion, then they will feel safe and secure, but, most of all, wanted.
Church, Ellen Booth. Best-ever Circle Time Activities: Back to School: 50 Instant & Irresistible Meet-and-greet Activities, Learning Games, and Language-building Songs and Rhymes. New York: Scholastic Professional Books, 2003.