In late October, Katie Williams’ and Vicki Smith’s kindergarten class buzzed with the noise of pint-sized architects and construction workers busy assembling miniature versions of their family homes. With printed photos as their guides and wooden and foam blocks as their materials, the children were hard at work building walls, adding stories, and brainstorming methods for constructing tricky architectural features.
This activity is one of many that makes up the unit of study on community that takes place every October and November. Katie explained that the unit—which begins after the first month of school, when students meet one another, and concludes before the family-centered Thanksgiving holiday break—is a fantastic way to help children discover more about themselves, their classmates, and their families, as well as how everyone fits into the communities around them.
By helping students see the bigger picture of how lives intertwine, they begin to learn how to balance the needs of themselves and others.
The class began the unit by reading Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day?, which explores the animal inhabitants of Busytown and how they work together to provide food, housing, and clothing for their families. The story started a kid-friendly discussion on the interconnectedness of communities, and because it also identifies children as helper workers, it opened the students’ eyes to their own place within their communities. “They’re still identifying who they are,” Katie said. By helping them see the bigger picture of how lives intertwine, she continued, “they begin to learn how to balance the needs of themselves and others.”
The class built on their discoveries. After identifying what makes them special individually, they expanded the discussion outward: from a person to a classroom community; from the classroom to the school community; from the school community to the surrounding neighborhood; and so on, up to the global community. The class took a walking field trip to 9th and 9th, where students identified what the Salt Lake City neighborhood and Busytown have in common (a bakery, a salon, and a fire station, among other things). The trip ended at Rowland Hall’s Lincoln Street Campus, where the children enjoyed exploring the middle and upper schools they may one day attend.
Each person is one of many and responsible for helping their community.—Kindergarten teacher Katie Williams
While the unit’s activities are definitely fun, they also stretch young learners developmentally. For example, collaborating with peers on community maps sharpened the children’s social-emotional skills, while solving problems—like how to replicate the particularly difficult slope of a roof—built cognitive skills.
The unit also guided them toward the goal of balancing their needs with those of others. On that October morning, the students who first completed their homes began helping those who needed assistance, and after construction was complete, they connected their creations with roads, turning the classroom into a mini-neighborhood. It was a reminder that every student contributes to making kindergarten an enjoyable place. After all, as Katie said, each person is one of many and responsible for helping their community.