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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.

Children in a forest

Four Real Benefits of Nature Play

If you have ever wondered about the real value of some good ole’ fashioned fresh air and outdoor time, then I would suggest you watch children as they bury their nose in some wildflowers, find an unusual alien-like insect in the woods, or happily splash around in a creek. As children explore their outdoor environment, they experience that special kind of pleasurable satisfaction nature provides that many adults remember feeling as children, and, as their parents did before them. A sunny summer afternoon running through the garden sprinkler or winter weekend spent playing hockey on a frozen lake are wonderful Canadian traditions, happily experienced and always fondly remembered.

When Playing Outside Can Seem Like a Daunting Task

However, the stress and effort of preparing young preschoolers for outdoor play, especially in colder seasons (… oh, you know… the coats, the assorted cold weather accessories, the piles of shoes and boots, the lineups at the bathroom…), can oftentimes feel a tad overwhelming. And that’s not all teachers have to worry about. What about the risk of injury? Insect stings? Mud puddle mishaps? Or possible zombie apocalypse?! Dear lord, the list just never ends.

Outdoor Play versus Nature Play: Is One Really Better?

Nature play is not just simply playing somewhere outside. It is actually more of a child-directed and child-initiated form of play in a natural space, such as an overgrown field, patch of woods, or the unmaintained areas of a neighborhood, and offers a great many benefits. Check out these following four benefits that nature play has to offer your childcare center.

Nature Play Benefit #1: Healthier Kids

Imagine a child running through a small patch of woods where trees have magically transformed into hiding places, upturned roots into forts, and fallen branches into jungle gyms. Now, compare the imaginative possibilities a child has in these woods to the possibilities provided by a swing or a slide in a playground. In both these instances there is a chance for physical activity, yet, undoubtedly, the woods do offer more options. This malleable and flexible aspect of nature is referred to by researchers as the ‘affordance’ of nature, and it is this affordance that offers substantial benefits to physical and motor skill development in small children.

Nature Play Benefit #2: Sharpened Intelligence

The variety provided by nature both stimulates and develops a child’s body physically, all the while offering an added boost to their brain development. When children are engaged in dynamic and varied outdoor play, they encounter ample opportunities for decision making. These circumstances, in turn, stimulate creative thinking and problem-solving in situations that are not typically found in a playground or static indoor environment.

Nature Play Benefit #3: Stress Relief and Social Bonding

Have you ever felt more relaxed after a walk along the lake or a hike in the woods? Most probably, the answer to that question is a loud YES! Well, it’s the same for kids. An added bonus to feeling relaxed is that time spent in nature often strengthens social bonds between children. Unstructured time inherent in play activities allows for the social interactions deemed to be crucial building blocks of emotional intelligence. When play time takes place in nature, kids have substantially increased possibilities for problem-solving, sharing, negotiating, and working together. So, you see, nature works as a facilitator of sorts for significant childhood social interactions.

Nature Play Benefit #4: Nurturing Care for Our Planet

As a general consensus, the scientific community believes that Earth will face tremendous environmental challenges in the upcoming years. Thus, in order to overcome these challenges, we will be in need of people who not only understand the Earth but who also have come to truly appreciate and care for it. Therefore, naturally (no pun intended!), research shows that nature play is a crucial stepping stone for developing these types of individuals. When children spend time in direct contact with the environment, through nature play, they can have the positive experiences that may, in fact, precondition them to care about nature and the world later on in life.