My favorite kind of presentation is the one where I don’t have to do a whole lot. No, not because I am lazy, but because it means the conversation has taken off and all I have to do is guide and nudge it to make sure it stays on track. That is exactly what happened at the Southern Early Childhood Association conference in New Orleans. My opening questions and activities were met with growing excitement and suddenly the conversation was catapulting off with a lot of voices lending their expertise.
I scribbled notes furiously and wanted to share a few of the really great observations with you here.
Just to recap, this presentation was called “Locally Source Culture: Creating Meaningful Community Partnerships.” The point was to get participants to think critically about their community and all the potential resources that existed and then spend a little time discussing how to “make contact” and start establishing a relationship. It was an extension of my article in Teaching Young Children but really aimed at getting people to rethink whether there was “nothing” in their community they could use (hint: that is almost NEVER true!)
Here are the inspiring points that the attendees brought up
- Never underestimate the power of the little things: Maybe a big truck, a train ride or just a really cool tree. It is easy as adults to look at things through the wealth of life experience we have. Young children are not there yet! The most simple aspect of your community will be met with a sense of wonder
- Bring the community to life that they may only see through a window: In communities where the main type of transportation is a car, many children may only SEE their community, not really experience it. Look for ways that you can bring them out into the community so it brings it to life for them and makes them feel connected
- Connecting to the community helps humanize the people who are in it; One teacher shared how her class had a new appreciation for vegetables after meeting “Farmer Joe” and another shared they always make a point of welcoming police officers in the classroom to help children whose relationship with the police in their neighborhood is not as positive. She said she wanted them to see that police are people and can be friendly and helpful to them also
- Your families are your first community: Look to your families first for ways to connect with the rest of your area. There are so many talents and skills among the parents and caregivers that can be shared with your class. This might take some digging, they might not realize that they have anything worthwhile to share, but ask and encourage.Not only will there be a wider range of things you can expose the kids to, but think how it encourage those families! It gives them a chance to be the expert, gives the student a chance to “show off” the pride they have in their family. One teacher shared a wonderful tradition where they did a field trip to each child’s house. It let the child show off and allowed the whole class to appreciate how everyone has things about their home life that are the same and things that are different. That particular method will not work everywhere, but the spirit of it can be channeled.
- Community partnerships benefit all kids: Whether you have English Language Learners, children with special needs or a mixed-age classroom, looking at community partnerships is a great way to make something approachable for all learners. “Learning through doing” is a cornerstone for many places and they will be able to support you in your planning.
- The community wants to get to know you: Many individuals, businesses and organizations in the community are eager to get to know you and your students. They may be just as unsure as you are about how to connect! They will need guidance on how to work with young children, how to engage with children with special needs or English Language Learners but they can be helped along the way. Your school can be a direct link for them to families and help community networks, agencies and community resources assist families.
- Mutually Beneficial: Working within the community will help everyone feel more connected and engaged, and that seems like a good thing for everyone.