DAP: Creating a Caring, Equitable Community of Learners
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Because early childhood education settings are often among children’s first communities outside the home, the character of these communities is very influential in children’s development. Through their interactions, children learn how to treat others and how they can expect to be treated. In developmentally appropriate practice, educators create and foster a community of learners. The role of the community is to provide a physical, emotional, and cognitive environment conducive to development and learning for each child. The foundation for the community is consistent, positive, caring relationships between educators and other adults and children, among children, among educators and colleagues, and between educators and families. Each member of the learning community is valued for what they bring to the community; all members are supported to consider and contribute to one another’s well-being and learning.
To create a caring, equitable community of learners, educators make sure that the following occur for children from birth through the primary grades.
A. Each member of the community is valued by the others and is recognized for the strengths they bring. By observing and participating in the community, children learn about themselves, their world, and how to develop positive, constructive relationships with other people. Each child has unique strengths, interests, and perspectives to contribute. Children learn to acknowledge and respect differences of all kinds and to value each person. Children with and without disabilities can learn from each other and respect each other using this strengths-based approach.
Educators demonstrate their valuing and respect for each child in different ways:
- Educators pronounce and spell the child’s name in accordance with the child’s and family’s preferences.
- Educators acknowledge and accept the family composition that each family defines.
- Educators demonstrate ongoing interest in each child’s unique knowledge, skills, and cultural and linguistic experiences and recognize these as assets for learning.
B. Relationships are nurtured with each child, and educators facilitate the development of positive relationships among children. Children construct their understandings about the world around them through interactions with other members of the community (both adults and peers). Thus, early childhood educators actively work to build their own relationships with each child as well as foster the development of relationships among the children. Educators regularly seek out opportunities for extended conversations with each child, including those with whom they do not share a language, through verbal and nonverbal interactions. Opportunities to play together, collaborate on investigations and projects, and talk with peers and adults enhance children’s development and learning and should be available to all children, with support as needed. Interacting in small groups provides a context for children to extend their thinking, practice emerging language skills, build on one another’s ideas, and cooperate to solve problems. (Also see guideline 2, “Engaging in reciprocal partnerships with families and fostering community connections.”)
C. Each member of the community respects and is accountable to the others to behave in a way that is conducive to the learning and well-being of all.
- Educators help children develop responsibility and self-regulation. Educators intentionally model and teach children self-regulation and calming strategies. Recognizing that behaviors reflect children’s experiences and needs, educators seek to understand a child’s reasons for behaving in particular ways. Knowing that responsibility and self-regulation develop with experience and time, educators consider how to foster such development in their interactions with each child and in their curriculum planning. They work to provide predictable, consistent routines (but not rigid schedules with unnecessary transitions) and supportive relationships for all children, taking into consideration the range of current self-regulation abilities among the children. They do not blame children or families for their behavior but call on additional resources for support as needed. They work to eliminate suspension and expulsions as mechanisms for addressing challenging behaviors. Educators also take care to reflect on their own behaviors and expectations and the ways in which these may affect children’s behavior. For all young children, including in K–3 classrooms, educators recognize that children are continuing to learn and refine behavior regulation. Educators implement systems of support that help children practice self-regulation and provide additional supports where needed. When using behavioral systems to guide social and emotional interactions in the early learning setting, educators ensure that the systems acknowledge positive behaviors rather than drawing attention to negative ones.
- Educators are responsible for all children under their supervision to ensure respectful behaviors. They actively teach and model prosocial behaviors. They monitor, anticipate, prevent, and redirect behaviors not conducive to learning or disrespectful of any member of the community.
- Educators set clear and reasonable limits on children’s behavior, find ways to effectively communicate those limits to all children, and apply them consistently. Early childhood educators help children be accountable to themselves and to others for their behavior. In the case of preschool and older children, educators engage children in developing their own community rules for behavior. Educators understand that all behaviors serve a purpose; they seek to understand what may be leading to that behavior and help children learn prosocial replacement behaviors when needed.
- Educators listen to and acknowledge children’s feelings, including frustrations, using words as well as nonverbal communication techniques. Knowing that children often communicate through their behavior, especially when they are unable to verbalize their feelings, educators seek to understand what the child may be trying to communicate in any language. Educators respond with respect in ways that children can understand, guide children to resolve conflicts, and model skills that help children to solve their own problems.
- Educators themselves demonstrate high levels of responsibility and self-regulation in their interactions with other adults (colleagues, family members) and with children. This includes monitoring their own behaviors for potential implicit biases or microaggressions on the basis of race and ethnicity, gender, disability, or other characteristics that unfairly target children or adults in the early learning setting, undermine an individual’s self-worth, or perpetuate negative stereotypes. They also confront biased or stereotypical comments in interactions among children and/or adults. When they inadvertently engage in behavior that hurts or undermines an individual’s self-worth, educators model how to manage negative emotions and to repair relationships.
D. The physical environment protects the health and safety of the learning community members, and it specifically supports young children’s physiological needs for play, activity, sensory stimulation, fresh air, rest, and nourishment.
The daily schedule provides frequent opportunities for self-directed play and active, physical movement, regardless of the length of the program day or the ages of the children. Children are provided opportunities for rest as needed. Outdoor experiences, including opportunities to interact with the natural world, are provided daily for children of all ages. This includes daily periods of recess for children through the primary grades. Recess is never withheld as a punishment. Mealtimes are unhurried, and conversation among children is encouraged during meals.
E. Every effort is made to help each and every member of the community feel psychologically safe and able to focus on being and learning. The overall social and emotional climate is welcoming and positive.
- Educators monitor interactions among community members (administrators, educators, families, children), as well as their overall experiences, striving to make sure that participants feel secure, relaxed, and comfortable rather than disengaged, frightened, worried, or unduly stressed.
- Educators build on individual children’s funds of knowledge,69 interests, languages, and experiences to foster each child’s enjoyment of and engagement in learning.
- Educators ensure that the environment is organized in ways that support play and learning and that create a positive group climate. Space, time, and stimulation are modified to take into account children’s individual needs and feelings of psychological safety. Educators recognize that individual children may need or benefit from different levels of stimulation. They avoid overly cluttered environments that may be too stimulating. Flexibility and freedom of movement predominate throughout the day. Although the environment’s elements are dynamic and changing, the overall structures and routines are predictable and comprehensible from a child’s point of view.
- Educators strive to make sure that each child hears and sees their home language, culture, and family experience reflected in the daily interactions, activities, and materials in the early learning setting. Each child’s various social identities are affirmed in positive ways that do not negatively impact any others. Stereotypical thinking and messages are countered with opportunities to engage in more sophisticated and accurate thinking.
- Educators are prepared to recognize signs of stress and trauma in young children and seek access to early childhood mental health experts, supports, and resources to provide healing-centered approaches to assist children. Educators recognize that children who have experienced trauma may need frequent, explicit, and consistent reminders that they are psychologically and physically safe. Educators also keep children’s resilience in mind, knowing that simple actions like being consistently warm and caring support healthy development for all children—including those who have experienced trauma.