The revision of Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs lists five fundamental principles related to children's learning and development. These guidelines, provided to better inform educational decisions and practice, cover Creating a Caring Community of Learners, Teaching to Enhance Development and Learning, Constructing Appropriate Curriculum, Assessing Children's Learning and Development, and Developing Reciprocal Relationships With Families. This month we are focusing on the first point.

Creating a Caring Community of Learners

Creating a caring community of learners involves supporting the many different relationships between people in your program-adults and children, teachers and families, children and their peers, staff with each other, teachers, families, and children, and so on. This happens when:

  • Everyone considers and contributes to the wellbeing of others. Care, respect, and concern are important parts of each interaction and relationship. Adults model thoughtful interactions and expect them of children.
  • Children are valued and respected. A positive and consistent group of adults provides opportunities for children to learn about their place in the world.
  • Children see examples of and are taught to respect, acknowledge, and value differences in one another's talents, abilities, and strengths. Learning often takes place in small groups, and there are many opportunities for relaxed time when children and adults can talk, ask questions, and explore concepts.
  • The environment is safe and healthy. The routine is balanced with rest, active play, sensory stimulation, fresh air, and nourishment. Children feel secure, relaxed, and comfortable.
  • Children experience an overall structure through an organized environment and an orderly routine. From the child's point of view, surroundings are dynamic but predictable, changing but comprehensible.

Communities Mirror the Future

As you know, educational practices are most effective when they are in tune with the ways children learn and develop. Building on the five principles mentioned at the beginning of this article can help us all see new possibilities and experience new potential. Creating a caring community of learners will give children skills they can use now and throughout their lives in the 21st century.

Next month we'll take a closer look at the second guideline, Teaching to Enhance Development and Learning.

Strategies for Administrators

Caring groups take work-a commitment from all of the adults involved to support the success of building and maintaining your community. Here are strategies that will help.

Be a role model. The way you interact sets the tone for the relationships in, and conveys the philosophy of, your program. This means consistently demonstrating respect, genuine interest, and open-mindedness toward staff, families, children, and members of the community.

Seek out community role models. Place heroes who are worth emulating in children's line of vision. Community advocates, religious leaders, and people who volunteer at the local food bank or in environmental cleanup efforts are just a few examples of positive role models children can benefit from interacting with. By involving these people in the daily life of your program, you bring them closer to staff, children, and families and also widen the community of people who know you and the families you work with.

Volunteer. Look for local, state, or national efforts children can relate to and then brainstorm ways to involve everyone - children, their families, and program personnel! Try to make your volunteer work a part of your ongoing curriculum. Children will learn more about the value of partnerships and cooperation, as well as develop a respect for the needs and interests of others and an enthusiasm for the process of helping. This same involvement will give people in cooperating organizations insight into the capabilities of children and families and, very possibly, enhance their awareness of children's issues. Who knows what additional changes and benefits may follow?

Provide support and follow-through. These ideas are worthwhile, but also challenging. Your encouragement, suggestions, and follow-up are essential to help everyone realize the benefits and be willing to continue. Help children, staff, and families recognize change as it happens. Share, and encourage others to share positive comments and insights.

This article originally appeared in the August, 1999 issue of Early Childhood Today.