Early childhood educators know that they are integral parts of every community. But is the reverse true? Is your community aware of the important role you play in it? One way you can let them know is through your actions. Communities begin to recognize differences when they see new and interesting actions taken by specific groups. This can happen in several ways.
Move Out Into the Community
Begin by volunteering and supporting specific projects that correspond with your philosophy or goals. Ask families for suggestions and bring the list to a parent support group meeting. Thank everyone for their input and then take the suggestions to others in the school to develop consensus. Start by asking these questions:
- Does this group complement our program, our goals, or our families?
- Does this community organization stand for something that benefits our children and their families?
- What will the children learn?
- Will the community see us in a new and positive way because of our work?
- Will the children in the program benefit from an association with this group?
- Will the children gain a better understanding of special needs and difficulties others experience?
- Will their self-confidence grow as they see that they can make a difference by working with this group?
Choose one project and ask for a committee to help. If you have chosen a project that is interesting to many, you should have immediate response from several people. Suggest that they gather others to help and then begin to plan your actions.
Invite Guest Speakers
Inviting others to join in your program's daily activities is a wonderful way to involve children of all ages in an enriching experience. Ask the Humane Society to bring in animals and talk about how to care for them. You can include all classrooms, even the youngest toddlers. Many people who work in the community, including firefighters, police, city officials, doctors, and dentists, will agree to come into your program to talk, demonstrate, or share their experiences with children. Ask families of enrolled children for volunteers first. You will be amazed at the resources within your own program.
Rather than just call on the telephone, ask children to write a note to the speaker. Ask them to describe why they are so interested in having this specific person or group come for the day. Get your request in early! Many invited guest speakers are very busy and can only allot a few excursions (and few budget dollars) each year.
Be sure to send thank-you notes to the visitors after the trip. Businesses, doctors' and dentists' offices, and community offices proudly display pictures and thank-you notes sent to them by children. It shows their community spirit as well.
Arrange Field Trips
Field trips are fun and exciting adventures for children. They not only expand children's view of their world but also teach many things. Children learn how to behave appropriately in different places, how to plan ahead, how a company or business operates within their community, how adults earn a living, and how items are made or food is harvested. Older children can be involved in planning and preparation several weeks before a trip. Younger children who do not yet grasp time concepts should begin their involvement the week of the trip. Encourage them to think about the trip by having a discussion at group time about what they will see and what they can expect to do on the day of the trip. Add some literacy activities by reading books, journaling, writing, drawing, or other creative projects related to the trip. Children can even dictate or tape record a story about what they expect to see and do that day. Plan another group-time discussion and repeat several of the pre-trip activities on the day after.
Create an Impact
Children are remarkably aware of what is going on around them. During group time or individual conversations, discuss their hobbies and activities out of school. As you get a sense of what is happening in their lives, you can probably relate it to ways that can include community groups or issues. Don't limit your thinking to common events like a canned-food drive. Try to incorporate cultural institutions, parks, recreation centers, science and art museums, libraries, grandparent or senior citizen groups, or other public and private agencies.
Seek Out Mentors and Role Models
Families are very different today than in the past. Single-parent families, families that are distanced geographically, and divorce and remarriage are very common in all classrooms. These changes may limit the amount of contact children have with adults who can offer advice and act as role models. Interested adults can participate in a mentor program that can provide emotional support and guidance to children of all ages. Mentors can help by reading stories, working individually with a child on specific skill development, helping with woodworking projects, participating in outdoor activities, and chaperoning field trips. Find mentors through recommendations by family members or through local community organizations such as civic groups, men's and women's associations, service clubs, and religious groups.
When early childhood programs reach out and get involved with the community, everyone benefits. Schools enjoy the informed support of families and community members, families discover many opportunities to contribute to their children's education, and the synergy created supports the entire community.