Building Community Kindergarten

Building the Early Foundation of Students Feeling Safe, Cared About, and Connected at School:

 Kindergarten is a place of introduction and transition into the school system. It’s our role as educators to help, guide and instruct students to interpret and assimilate into this new environment; to instill definitive attitudes, behaviours, and skills essential for success.

Having children learn early the interconnectedness and purpose of a community is foundational. Within a classroom community, there is an interwoven sense of mutual support and responsibility. Students should come to understand that their classroom is a place where they are able to count on others and others are able to count on them.

The “what we do” in our classroom community and the “how we do it” are key at this age and stage; however, the most important piece for kinders to understand is the “why we do it”.

The stages and tenets below will help with the what, how, and why when it comes to establishing and building community in a Kindergarten classroom. 

The Five Areas Involved in Solidifying Skills Necessary for a Kinder Classroom to Function:

*done both individually and as a group (important to model, reinforce, recognize and celebrate publicly!)

*all five are ongoing and overlap

Modeling

Kindergarten is a child’s first exposure to school and sometimes a child’s first time together in a large group with other children. Consistent modeling of all desirable behaviour, is the key to developing a positive classroom environment. 

Explicitly Teaching

We take a lot for granted and assume that children know and understand basic instructions and routines. This is often far from true. If you want a certain behaviour, or practice established,  you must teach it. We must explicitly teach the what, how and why.

Practicing

The only way to confidence and mastery is through repeated practice. With each stage of explicit teaching, children build on previous learning and integrate it into their continued practice.

Recognizing

When students are learning and practicing new skills, it is important to actively recognize them as they work toward mastery. Be specific with your recognition. Stay away from “good job!” as that gives the child no information about what they are doing right. Say things like, “I see you holding the door for your classmate, thank you for being so thoughtful.”

Celebrating

Celebrating successes and being specific about the greatness or success you are celebrating is important for students to maintain their excitement about learning. Having a communal signal of acknowledgment  to celebrate individual progress or success of their peers is a way to build a mutually supportive community.

It is our job to teach what it means (define) and then facilitate the practice. Recognize when it is happening, help them recognize it

(ex., “Oh, I just heard someone make a good choice…what did they say?”).

Stop and notice the behaviour then celebrate it. Facilitate the learning….IF you check in and they don’t know, get another friend to help or explain. 

Tenet 1:  You are Safe at School.

It is essential as little people arrive at school and have their first experience away from home, that we make them feel safe. Learning doesn’t happen unless our students feel that they are in an environment that is safe and that they are surrounded by adults who care about them. This MUST be an ongoing process, reminding them and showing them that school and their classroom are safe places to be.

At the beginning of year an example of a response to give when asked “where’s my mommy/daddy?”

They’re not here but I’m here, I’m your teacher and I’m going to take care of you and keep you safe and love you so you don’t need to worry.

Kinderbunnies: (Why bunnies?)

The most important part of Kindergarten is reassuring children that they are safe and cared about when they are at school.

A dynamic and experienced Kindergarten teacher referred to her children as Kinderbunnies. She would start the year out by reading Margaret Wise Brown’s book, “The Runaway Bunny”

In the story, the young bunny is determined to runaway. Each of his fanciful ideas are thwarted by his mommy’s persistent pursuit. In the end, the young bunny decides to stay safely at home.

After reading the book, she discusses why the mommy followed her little one so relentlessly. Ultimately the children tell that the mother bunny wanted to keep her bunny safe because she loved him. 

With the students, she then looks up and down, side to side, for their mommies. Of course they aren’t there.

 

She wonders aloud with them, “Who will keep them safe?”

She then pledges to here students that at school, she will be the teacher bunny and will always care for them and keep them safe.

They will be her kinderbunnies.

Throughout the first days of school, she talks about key people around the school (i.e., the principal, office administrators, custodial staff, bus drivers…) and introduces them to the students explaining that they are people who will also help to keep them safe.

The other great perk about calling kinders kinderbunnies is that bunnies have big ears that help them listen and bunnies twitch their noses, but make very little noise!

Tenet 2: There are no bad children; only bad choices.

Rule #1 in Kindergarten: There are NO BAD BOYS OR BAD GIRLS, JUST BAD CHOICES.

 When we make bad choices or mistakes it is a lesson so we can learn to make a better choice the next time. Bad choices can be changed.

 Separating the person from the behaviour, especially with our intense and sometimes aggressive students is paramount. Behaviour is a form of communication. Peacebreaker behaviour is simply an indication of frustration and loss of control. We need to explore the feelings or thoughts behind the negative behaviour (identify emotions and help give the tools and strategies to verbalize), easing the frustration by offering alternative solutions.

“Please talk to you hands. Tell them, please stop hitting.”

“Tell your feet…no more kicking.”

“Your cars are being too noisy. Can you please tell them to stop…otherwise they might not be able to play at playtime.”

By personifying the parts of the body, or the objects involved,  the behaviour is the focus rather than the child.

 This instantly diffuses the situation. Rather than inviting a defensive reaction, they are provided the opportunity to control/change their behaviour. 

 

Tenet 3: We are all part of our classroom family community.

An important start point when establishing your class family or community is helping students identify themselves as individual and separate from others but to also see the similarities they share with others in their classroom community. (Put up your hand if you have 2 arms, 1 nose….)

An example; “You are very special; there are so many wonderful things about you and I love you very much. You are important to me and to our class. Now look beside you, you see the person there…they are important and special too. Now look around our whole circle…every person here is important and they/we all want to feel safe and happy at school SO we need to make sure that we are keeping our class a safe and happy place.

We need them to be able to identify with one another. Very important first and at the beginning of the year.

Over time we start to see the differences. Someone can do something another can’t “and that’s ok. We’re all learning” “Do you remember when you couldn’t get your boots on? And now you can”….Sometimes the progress is intangible so it’s not recognized. But need to recognize it (when you were a baby you couldn’t stand or walk and now look what you can do).

Most kids don’t come critical of other people.

Tenet 4 – Use words – not hands! – not teeth! -not the angry dance! not the whining song! or the silent sulk!

EXPRESSIVE LANGUAGE:

The  “Angry Dance”, “Silent Sulk”, “Whining Song”, and “Frustration Frazzle” are not peacemaker ways of dealing with conflict or solving problems. 

During or after a conflict, start with: What do you want him/her to know?

The more we use this tactic, the better they get at identifying and articulating.

Early in the year, model what these reactions look like with the class. Show the undesired behaviour….identify it and decide as a group whether or not it is effective for communicating.

Discuss why these are not effective methods?

(i.e., other people can’t help you fix what’s wrong if they don’t understand.)

Explain that when you are doing these things or acting in any of these ways, we can’t really help you because we don’t know what’s wrong. 

We have to model and teach effective communication explicitly to children. They need to understand that active listening is not just being quiet. It’s hearing the words that someone is saying, thinking about what the words mean, and asking questions if needed. These skills require practice and continuous modeling and feedback.

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION Students need to understand that in communication there are speakers  and receivers. To understand both roles, children need explicit teaching, modeling, practicing, recognizing, and celebrating of active listening and effective communication.

Check in with them…stop whatever is being said and ask: “what’s special about Johnny’s house?”

Can’t just model…explain why the behaviour happens and how. Analyze it and then

Did you use the Recipe?

  • Use the person’s name, if you know it.

  • Use a polite word.

  • Say clearly what you need.

Tenet 5 – If you make a mistake, the ceiling WON’T fall down, your ears WON’T fall off, and the sun WON’T fall from the sky!

Mistakes and bad choices are chances to learn new lessons so you can make new choices next time.

Of course if they are already erupting in anger etc. we have to do something else first.

(i.e., Do you feel comfortable here?  Would you like a space to be alone or quiet? Children need to feel understood and have a gracious exit so that they can de-escalate.

Read alouds are so useful for showing how to do these things because it is “someone else” with the problem…not personal.

Can make a class book about feelings… “I feel grumpy when _______.”

On next page. “But I dont always feel grumpy. Other times I feel _________.” Illustrate it.

Tenet 6: Good friends help each other make good choices. Best friends help each other be and do their best.

 

 Using the term “peacemaker” to describe students and the idea of peacemaker vs peacebreaker choices is good language when establishing your classroom community.

Peacebreaker choices are those choices that contribute or lead to problems rather than solutions.

It is our job to teach what it means (define) and then facilitate the practice. Recognize when it is happening, help them recognize it (oh I just heard someone make a good choice…what did they say?) Stop and notice the behaviour then celebrate it. Facilitate the learning….IF you check in and they don’t know, get another friend to help or explain. 

There is a peacemaker way to give any message. Use gentle words to give a gentle message –

I feel ____________(this way) when _______________(this happens)…

I need ____________ (this to happen instead).

Tenet 7: Little people can solve little problems. When the problem is too big for you, ask a big person

Tenet 8: If you hurt someone, first, make sure they are alright; second, help if you can, get help if you can’t; third, apologize; fourth, decide a different choice so it won’t happen again.

Tenet 9: Learning is NOT a competition; it is a team sport and we are ALL on the same team!!