One of the things I am most proud of about how I teach is how well I get to know my students. I am lucky that my co-teacher teaches very similarly in that respect, and together, despite all the Covid disruptions we had last year, we worked hard to make a unique and functional classroom community. Our students relied on us and each other; they knew each other so well that they would get excited about projects knowing that this friend or that would really love it because it’s their favorite color or favorite animal, and it made mediating disputes more effective. When you know your students, and they know each other, conflict is easier to resolve because everyone wants a solution because peace matters when the people matter to each other. Here are some of my favorite classroom community building activities for turning your classroom into a caring community.
- Get To Know Your Students Before School Stars
- Create lessons that include your students
- Collaborative projects
- Peer scaffolding
Build Your Classroom Community Before School Starts
For the past few years, I have been lucky to have many returning students. I taught more than half the students in my PreK class in previous years, so I started the year with a huge advantage. In the upcoming school year, I won’t have that advantage. Instead, I will email the families before the school year begins and ask a few questions. I’ll ask if there are any self-help tasks they need adult helps with, like using the bathroom or getting jackets on; I’ll ask what their favorite color, animal, and favorite book is right now. This gives me a little insight into my students and shows families I care. Other classroom community building activities to accomplish this would be to have summer playdates at parks and open houses and to send welcome postcards, which are on my to-do list this summer as well. Once I know my students’ favorite animals, I’ll be making these postcards and sending them out to say hello.
Do I really need to elaborate? Play is the most powerful tool we have in our classrooms for learning skills, whether they are social-emotional or academic and for building community. Get down and talk and play. You will quickly learn all about your students, what they love, what they avoid because it’s too hard, and what they excel at. Make time every day to do your best to check in and play with as many of your students as possible.
Be intentional about how you set up your classroom to facilitate and encourage productive play. If your students all go crazy for building blocks but the block area only holds a small number of them, bring the blocks to a larger space. Observe your students playing and see who they gravitate to and how you can foster those friendships.
Put Your Students Into The Lessons
My class morning routine includes a quick child of the day activity where one child is singled out to bring show n’ tell, but before they do that, we guess who it is by making the sounds and later in the year spelling their name. “The child of the day’s name starts with this sound “a” – yes, it’s Allison!” then I ask the child a little bit about them. Here are some examples: favorite animal ( we make that animal sound as a group), favorite food ( put quiet hands up if you like that too), and favorite number ( everyone jumps up and stomps out that number with me!). These questions change as the year progresses, but those are the basic ones to start with. Afterward, the child gets up and shares their show n’ tell. As you can see, at every step, the whole class is involved, even if they aren’t the child of the day.
Another way to put your students into your lessons beyond making activity choices based on their likes and dislikes is to actually put their faces, families, and names into them.
Use photos of your students for art projects like this family photo frame.
Use your students’ names and faces for games, too, like this memory game!
And of course, name activities are great for making children feel a sense of belonging in their class and a great literacy strategy.
Oh, and don’t miss out on this Read Across America activity idea I used; I can’t stress enough about how effective this was in my class and how my heart burst with happiness seeing my little class community shine.
This sounds so much more complicated than it is. Collaborative projects are great classroom community building activities. Many years ago, I had a PreK class that fought like cats and dogs. It was in a childcare center, and my core group of students was at the center for the absolute maximum amount of time daily. They were together a lot. Which created an interesting and often challenging dynamic. A tool I found to be a wonderfully effective intervention for this was group art projects. The students often fought over taking turns for centers or favorite toys but when I put paper up on the walls and gave them all access to markers, the fighting ceased. Now, decades later, I use this same strategy even though I haven’t had such a challenging class since.
Murals, decorating big box forts, sticker walls, loose part worlds, these projects don’t have to be fancy to be effective. Don’t forget play is collaborative so when we make time for plenty of play in our classrooms, we meet this need as well.
This pom pom web was a favorite, and we had so many working together to fill them!
Do you love Vygotsky as much as I do? I have been fangirling about K-pop bands with my now twelve-year-old daughter ( yes, my youngest is now 12) for a few months, but my ult-bias ( my absolute favorite person to be a fan of) as she would say, is Lev Vygotsky. He was not only an important psychologist who gave us the sociocultural theory and the idea of the zone of proximal development ( ZPD); he was really good-looking. But his beauty isn’t why I am such a fan of this long-dead Russian dude; it’s because of the ZPD. The ZPD is the area where students learn the best and can have success with a task with a little bit of help, a scaffold. Scaffolds are temporary supports. They work to stabilize a structure as it is built when it isn’t strong enough to stand on its own. In the world of early childhood development, a scaffold can be a person, an adult, or peer modeling or instructing, among other things. Peer scaffolding specifically is not only good for learning, but it’s also great for community building too. Read more about peer scaffolding ( and Lev) here.
Ready to take building classroom community to the next step?
These 5 simple steps are a great start, but I invite you to go to the next level by incorporating Funds of Knowledge into your teaching practice. If you are not sure what that is or how to do that, check out my simplified look at this educational concept here –> Funds of Knowledge .