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Author: Lindsay Pereira

Lindsay Pereira is a Montréal-based freelance writer, creative writing Master's student, parenting and early education blogger, "mommy products" and children's book reviewer, and (exhausted!) mom of three darling troublemakers (including twins!). She has extensive academic writing experience in the fields of art history, anthropology, and English literature. In her previous (pre-mommy) life, Lindsay was a licensed MassoKinesitherapist and enjoyed writing and blogging on the subjects of therapy, health, and wellness.

Teaching Kids About Community and Community Helpers

As preschoolers learn about the communities that surround them, their neighborhood becomes a much broader setting. Suddenly, they begin to think about it as a place where they live as a member. A place where they can make a difference.

My Preschool Buddies and Me: We’re Part of a Community!

At the preschool level, children are rapidly developing social skills and quickly learning that the people around them in their neighborhood, from the butcher to the baker, and, yes, even the candlestick maker, may have some importance in their lives. This understanding is what we all refer to as a “sense of community.” Therefore, teaching kids about communities and community helpers, those invaluable people in your neighborhood, will help them expand their social repertoire and better understand where they live, how everyone interconnects, and what’s going on around them.

Part One: What is a “Community?”

If the thought of teaching your classroom about the broad concept of communities seems quite the daunting task, don’t fret! Why not start with these activities?

1) Start at Home with Family

Start out simple. When it comes to the idea of a community, what “group of people” could kids draw from and associate with right off the bat? It’s their family. You can examine how each member of their family is similar, yet, still different. Dad might love steak while Mom doesn’t eat meat. Big Sister loves soccer while Little Brother hates it.

2) Expand on the Idea of Community

Now, move further out to another level of community that children can easily visualize: their block or neighborhood. You can have the kids make a list of services that link their neighborhood community together. This list could include libraries, community pools, local schools, and places of worship.

3) Have the Kids Design a Map

Take the class on a walk around the school block. Have them bring along papers or notebooks to draw out what they see. Once you’re all back inside, draw out a map using a large poster board and crayons. Hang it up in the classroom and slowly add to it with every walk your class enjoys.

4) We Are All Part of a Greater Whole

Remind your preschoolers that their neighborhood community is not the only one out there. Bringing in various maps, world atlases and taking out library books on different cultures are some of the ways you can help little minds to broaden their perspective of communities.

Part Two: What is a “Community Helper?”

Who are the people who make your neighborhood a better place? What occupations exist within a community that makes neighborhood households run a bit more smoothly? The police keep our communities safe, teachers help students learn, nurses and doctors help people stay healthy, postal workers deliver mail and parcels- it is these professions that directly impact our neighborhood. These invaluable individuals are known as community helpers.

Try these fun activities with your classroom to better convey the importance of community helpers!

1) Ask Community Helpers for an Interview or Presentation

Ask a community helper, such as a police officer, firefighter, paramedic, or postal worker, to come in for a visit. Before they arrive, have the kids come up with a list of questions to ask. Questions like: What does that helper do? What does their usual day entail? What training did they undergo for their position?

2) Let’s Play a Game: Community Charades

Write the names of different community helpers, such as veterinarian, firefighter, paramedic, police officer, dentist, doctor, butcher, sanitation and recycling worker, mayor, and letter carrier, on some index cards. Glue on some pictures to illustrate the helpers so as to help emerging readers understand the cards. Shuffle them up, place them into a box, and have the children take turns to pull a card out, and then have them act out the community helper they selected. Their classmates will have fun guessing who is on the card! Afterward, spend some time discussing what that helper does and why their job is meaningful in the community.

3) Raise Community Awareness Through Volunteer Work

Why not have the class do some (easy) community work? You can have the kids join in a neighborhood spring cleanup or help to raise awareness for an important local issue (like school funding). Another option could be to organize a fundraiser, such as a bake sale or weekend schoolyard sale, and donate the profits to a local charity or organization.

Enhance Learning With Dramatic Play

Dramatic play is known as a make-believe activity where children assign and accept roles, to then act them out. It’s a fun time for them where they use their creativity and imagination to pretend to be someone or something else. They dramatize their actions and place themselves into situations that go along with the roles they have decided to play.

Truth be told, this type of play is often considered to be more of a frivolous activity by some. Yet, enabling kids to develop such skills in areas like social studies, abstract thinking, literacy, and math, remains an essential part of the developmental learning process.

An Essential Learning Environment

When we watch kids play, we witness how they smoothly reinvent scenes that would typically take place in life like in a department store, a gas station, a library, a construction site, or even a classroom. This shows us that, to reach the fullest potential of dramatic play with regards to learning, daycare and preschool educators must “set the stage” throughout their classroom(s).

How Do Educators “Set the Stage” for Dramatic Play?

Dramatic play areas need to be inviting to children. The presentation of the area needs to inspire creativity and imagination. It should be a designated area where kids can instantly become someone else.

What is a Dramatic Play Skill Set?

There are five main skills that children enlist and further develop as they act out dramatic play experiences.

1) Role Playing:

Here, children use verbal expressions and mimic behaviors of whatever they are pretending to be. In the beginning, they will only imitate one action, perhaps two. But, the more they participate in dramatic play, the more they will expand those roles by imagining several actions that are relevant to their designated role.

2) Prop Use:

Children can elaborate or extend on their play, all by including objects into their pretend play. At first, they’ll usually rely on realistic, looks-just-like-it’s-suppossed-to, props. Then, they’ll move on to prop substitution, for instance, using a scarf to represent a watering hose, and then progress to “mime actions” or holding their empty hands in a certain manner to show that they are (pretending) to hold a “real” hose.

3) Make-Believe/Pretend Play:

Dramatic play is, essentially, playing make-believe. Kids take on a role, pretending to be a father, fireman, racecar driver, and so on, by emulating movements and actions they have witnessed before. Once they start to use dramatic play more and more, kids will then start to incorporate words to enhance their re-enactments. Sometimes, children even engage in a deeper, fantasy-like play, where the stories and situations they come up with are not based on reality.

4) Interaction and Social Skills:

The beauty of dramatic play is that it promotes the development of social skills. They acquire these social skills through the interaction with family, friends, and playmates. As children learn valuable social skills and increase that development through dramatic play, they will learn to adapt to pretending to play alone within scenarios, to pretend play that involves other children. In this last instance, children will play various roles and relate to each other from the viewpoint of their assigned roles.

5) Communication:

Dramatic play, without a doubt, promotes speaking, vocalization, and listening skills. When kids partake in dramatic play, they repeat words they have heard people say in similar situations and recognize that they have to listen to everyone one else to be able to respond appropriately. Additionally, it teaches them to pick their words carefully, so other children will understand precisely what it is they are striving to communicate.

Parent and Child

5 Separation Anxiety Tips for Teachers

As preschool and daycare teachers know all too well, separation anxiety can appear in numerous forms. Though some individuals may believe it only happens during a child’s first few weeks of school, this is, regrettably, inaccurate. Most preschoolers often transition quite well into the classroom setting. However, teachers will, undoubtedly, have a few that do not.

Separation anxiety in children may present itself as sitting quietly on a chair avoiding any interaction with their new classmates. Others, more commonly, may cry. Some may even have an all-out tantrum. Oh, ye all-knowing gods of early education, what is a teacher TO DO???!!!

Understand the Big Picture and Quash that Anxiety Monster

Behold this informative list of separation anxiety tips! Teachers, these five steps will calm those early morning jitters and help settle any classroom fiasco.

Separation Anxiety Monster Quasher #1:

The Classroom Meet and Greet

Aside from acknowledging a child’s feelings, it is also imperative to recognize a parent’s emotions and concerns as well. Typically, parents experience guilt, apprehension, anger, frustration, and helplessness. It’s completely normal and understandable, of course, given the situation. Yet, when you verbally empathize with a parent, it lets them know that you do care.

It helps to greet each child and parent at morning drop-off time.  At this point, you can assure them that you will help their child settle in. Let them know that their child is most assuredly NOT the only one to react this way and that it is a very common occurrence in the daycare and preschool setting.

Separation Anxiety Monster Quasher #2:

Acceptance of Emotions

Acceptance of emotions is a huge, important point. In fact, if you have a highlighter nearby, I suggest you circle and color this section in. Here’s what you need to really pay attention to as a teacher:

Many well-intentioned statements or comments are often made to a child suffering from separation anxiety which results in a total dismissal of how they are truly feeling in the moment. And, although they were made with the intention of aiding them with their feelings, the result is that those same comments and statements won’t alter that child’s emotions. In fact, it could just make everything all that much worse.

Please, avoid saying things such as:

“Oh, no! Don’t cry! Look! This is a happy preschool/daycare! We don’t cry here!”

“You’re a big girl/boy now, and preschoolers don’t cry at school!”

“You’re a big kid now, not a baby!  Go play! No more tears!”

These types of statements, again, simply dismiss how children are feeling. Their separation anxiety has to do with being in a new, unknown place AND being separated from their family. It is important to acknowledge how they feel.

Separation Anxiety Monster Quasher #3:

Reassurance and Encouragement

Once the parent has left, then sit down with the anxious child and reassure them that their parent will most definitely return for them. Now, try to get them involved in a classroom activity that you have available. If, however, the child is not interested in interacting or getting involved in the activity, just accept it.  Instead, offer them a quiet choice.  Do not attempt to force interaction and play since they simply need to calm down from their anxiety.

Separation Anxiety Monster Quasher #4:

Communication Quencher

Usually, if a child has a tough time at morning drop-off, then that is the image that parents remain with the entire day: My child is sad/angry/crying/freaking out. And, naturally, they feel horrible about it.

Why not let them know that their child is, in fact (hopefully), doing fine later on in the day? Honestly, it only takes a few minutes to do so and can be done with a short text. You can even include a picture of their little one in an activity (as long as you don’t include other children in the picture, for confidentiality reasons).

Or, if a child had a particularly difficult drop-off, consider calling the parent instead. However, one word of warning, do not, REPEAT, DO NOT call them in front of their child. Because, obviously, all hell will break loose, and you’ll find yourself back at square one. Not only will parents truly appreciate the quick call, but they’ll also learn that you do honestly care about their child.

Separation Anxiety Monster Quasher #5:

Talking it Out

Talk it out with both the parents and the children. And, not just the child in question, but all the children in the classroom. It’s the perfect opportunity to discuss feelings in the classroom.

Talking it Out with the Children:

Talk to kids about how they are feeling during school at circle time. Here’s a chance to perhaps incorporate a How Do You Feel Today? segment to your classroom time. Try using emotion faces to help children link the appropriate emotion to the discussion, whether by using pictures or stickers or artwork. Perhaps you’d be interested in using a chart system that allows kids to place emotion stickers next to their name which would allow them to connect with how they are feeling each day.

Talking it Out with the Parents:

Do try to be available at pick-up time, especially for those children having separation anxiety issues. Let the parent(s) know how their child transitioned throughout the day. Although, if a parent wishes to talk longer about their child’s separation anxiety, it would be helpful to arrange a more appropriate time to speak. Why not suggest that you call them after school instead? Please keep in mind that discussing such delicate issues in front of their child, and really, the class in general, can lead to further feelings of being self-conscious…. which can lead to even MORE anxiety. Remember, little ears are always listening!