What Is Community?

Begin by asking children if they know what the word community means. Explain that a community is a group of people who live and/or work with one another. Your classroom is a community. And your town or neighborhood is a community. Tell children you’re going to make a holiday decoration that celebrates community. Begin by distributing a colorful paper strip to each child. Invite them to write their names on the strips and then work together to form a paper chain. Discuss how the chain is like your classroom community—every link (or person) plays an important role.

Where Do We Live?

Gauge students’ geographical understanding of your community by asking them to draw the route they take to school. Besides their homes and your school, encourage children to include landmarks (fire station, park, drugstore) they pass along the way. Help children label their maps with any street or building names they know. (These “mental maps” will be off-the-wall—that’s OK!) Next, pull up your school using Google Earth. Show students the relationship between the “street,” or actual, view and where your school is located on a map. Zoom out to show your neighborhood or town and any places students identified on their maps. Send home printouts of local maps, and ask parents to help children trace their actual routes to school. Finally, have students present their maps to the class.

Who Lives in Our Community?

Ask students about who lives in their neighborhood or town. What kinds of jobs do they have? Have kids tell about the jobs of people they know and how each role helps the community (e.g., doctors help sick people, police officers keep us safe, grocers sell us food). Invite each small group to choose one of the jobs you listed and then work together to create a holiday greeting thanking the people who do that job for their hard work. Together, research where to send the cards. Then address the envelopes and mail your holiday cheer.

What’s Special About Our Home?

Most communities have some things in common and other things that are unique. For example, almost all towns have schools and hospitals, but only Mitchell, South Dakota, is home to the world-famous Corn Palace. Talk about what’s unique to your community geographically (Are we near the mountains? The beach?) and culturally (Is our area known for a certain type of food?). Then, invite students to work with their families to identify a favorite spot (a bridge, a park, a view) in the community. If possible, encourage families to submit a photograph of that spot as well. Have students present their favorite places to the class. Afterward, combine the photos into a class book to photocopy and send home to parents. This heartfelt guide to your town will be a perfect holiday gift.

What Grows Here Naturally?

Begin your discussion of local flora and fauna by asking kids to sort word or picture cards into two categories: things that live or grow here and things that don’t. If you live in Colorado, for example, you might include a palm tree, an evergreen, a polar bear, and a brown bear. Talk about the piles kids make and the difference between things that occur naturally and plants or animals that people have brought to your area. Next, go on a nature walk and take pictures of the plants and animals that you see. Add any new photos to your card game and invite students to play again.

Who Lived Here Before Us?

As a class, talk about when your community was founded and what types of people were among those original founders. Where did they come from? Why did they want to live in your area? Are there still people related to the founders living in your town? Starting with the year, write the date of the founding on a large note card, along with other key dates in your community’s history. Discuss these subsequent events. Then, challenge children to hang the note cards on a clothesline in the correct order. Tell students to look at the year first, then the month, and then the day.

How Can We Help?

Revisit your discussion of community helpers and ask students: How can kids help their community? For inspiration, read grade-level picture books about giving back, such as Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney and The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter. As a class, decide on a project to help your community, such as collecting canned food for a local shelter or teddy bears for a children’s hospital. If children can’t accompany you to deliver goods that you’ve collected, document the trip and take pictures so that they can see directly how they made an impact.