What Community Means in Early Childhood Education

CCEI’s July newsletter focuses on ways that ECE programs can strengthen the sense of community between every person who walks in the door.  The goal is for every child and adult to feel a sense of belonging, respect, and connection. This is the foundation for all learning that occurs within the walls of the program.

We can refer to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and their most recent position statement on developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) for guidance on what community means in early childhood education.

Specifically, NAEYC states, “The role of the community is to provide a physical, emotional, and cognitive environment conducive to development and learning for each child.”

According to NAEYC’s DAP position statement, in an early learning community:

Each member of the community is valued by the others and is recognized for the strengths they bring.

      • When teachers model behaviors that communicate respect, it is possible for children to learn these skills as well. This is accomplished by honoring the unique makeup of each family and working to build on the strengths of both children and their family members.

Relationships are nurtured with each child and educators facilitate the development of positive relationships among children. 

      • Educators who are community builders recognize that strong relationships make everything else just a bit easier. Whether faced with a challenging conversation with a parent or helping a child work through challenging behaviors, the trust that blossoms from a positive relationship will be beneficial.

Each member of the community respects and is accountable to the others to behave in a way that is conducive to the learning and well-being of all. 

      • Teachers set the tone of respect but every member of the group is responsible for maintaining the sense of safety, caring, and cooperation that keeps a community strong. This is accomplished by focusing on ways to communicate needs and emotions and work within a set of expectations that keeps everyone safe, both physically and emotionally.

The physical environment protects the health and safety of the learning community members, and it specifically supports young children’s physiological needs for play, activity, sensory stimulation, fresh air, rest, and nourishment.

      • This means that teachers manage the daily schedule to ensure that children have the opportunity to explore an engaging selection of activities. The flow of the day should allow ample time to complete tasks, rather than rushing through them.

Every effort is made to help each and every member of the community feel psychologically safe and able to focus on being and learning.

      • This is accomplished through reflective and responsive practices teachers put in place in response to individual children’s needs. Teachers look for signs of stress and act to reduce it. They reflect children’s home lives within the classroom and maintain an organized environment that promotes play and exploration.

Sometimes, the idea of creating community seems like an abstract concept.  It may seem more difficult than it actually is.  Shifting the focus from a purely academic approach to a more social and emotional approach is the first step to building community.  That means slowing down, getting to know children and families, and putting practices in place that meet their unique needs.

Best of luck!