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Create a Nourishing Classroom Culture 39
playmates. Sometimes they kiss the image behind the
fort. They do this as well with the homemade books
glass or use a sponge to wipe their mommy or daddy’s
featuring photo stories of the children reuniting with
face. The children often carry around other smaller
a parent. Each of these gestures offers reassurance
frames of family photos, at times putting them in the
and supports the children’s connections with their
doll bed or on a table where they are playing. After
families and one another.
morning drop-off and separation, Deb prompts chil-
dren to find their family’s photo. The children become
accustomed to this routine and, during the day, might
take a framed photo to a child who is in need of com-
A Family Altar
When Mia and her family went to China
to adopt their second child, Mia’s teacher
Myrna suggested they bring back something
to represent their trip and expanded family.
Myrna wanted to acknowledge this big
change in Mia’s life and provide ways for
her to play out any of her feelings, be they
excitement, pride, fear, or insecurity. Mia re-
turned with a little tea set for the classroom,
and Myrna used it as a way to invite Mia to
share her story with her classmates.
Reflect Deb’s story highlights how concrete objects can make
values and early childhood research come alive in the
classroom. Deb has created an environment where
familiar family faces provide comfort and ease feel-
ings of loss during the long hours children are away
from their families. Noticing how happy both the
children and their families are when they reunite at
the end of each day, she photographs these moments
and creates little homemade storybooks to help the
children remember that this joyful time will come
again at the end of each day. When you watch them
closely, you see how observant children are to every-
thing around them. We wonder how Piaget (2001)
overlooked some easy-to-see empathetic gestures
and concluded that toddlers are egocentric!
To assess how your environment acknowledges
understandings of attachment theories and the
importance of sustaining children’s connections with
their families, sketch the floor plan of your room.
Then go through each of the following possibilities,
coding your floor plan with the numeral indicated.
Hilltop Children’s Center
• Put a 1 in all the places where children’s family
life and culture are reflected and nourished.
• Put a 2 in all the places where children can find
comfort when they miss their families.
• Put a 3 in all the places that remind children that
they will be reunited with their families.
• Put a 4 in all the places where the children’s
family members can feel at home, relaxed, and
respected in the room.
• Put a 5 in all the places where the children and
their families can get to know more about and
bond with you.
40 Chapter 2
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Most programs hold some kind of a fall meeting for
families, sometimes including the children and in
other cases, just adults. When you plan these initial
and then ongoing family gatherings, consider how
they can reflect your values and goals for mutual
relationships. Such meetings will have a very dif-
ferent feel than ones where the teacher or director
is on a one-way street—giving out, but not receiv-
ing, information, expectations, or expertise. To sup-
port the classroom culture you are trying to develop,
think in terms of family gatherings as opposed to
business or information meetings. Food and music
are always helpful components, as are easy ways for
people to mingle, converse, and get a sense of one
another and your program. When you do take up
business or devote time to communications about
your philosophy, routines, and pedagogy, do so in
a way that parallels what you do with the children.
Providing experiences, not just information, builds
solid partnerships and reframes the notion of parent
education. Hilltop Children’s Center
How do these ideas support children’s need to
have secure bonds with their families and caregivers?
If your current environment doesn’t include clear
examples of the above items, think about how you
can add any missing elements. Then move on to
assessing how your daily routines and policies sup-
port connections. Are there any changes you want to
make? For each idea you have, make an action plan
with a timeline for yourself.
In planning their fall gathering, Ann and the other
teachers choose a big question or idea to explore first
with the children in the classroom and then with the
families during their meeting. For instance, one year
Ann chose the question “What’s the same or different
between home and school?” and another year she
and her team focused on “How do very young chil-
dren understand friendship, and how is that the same
or different from how adults understand friendship?”
As the families discuss their ideas, teachers offer
documentation of the children’s thinking on the ques-
tions, which typically provokes a deeper discussion
about the topic and the ways in which children can
inform our understandings. Teachers also offer paral-
Exchanging Ideas and Gifts
lel hands-on experiences for the children and parents,
Ann and her coworkers have developed key elements
asking them to leave surprise gifts for one another.
for their family gatherings that involve different
Examples of these gifts include painted dishes, person-
explorations from year to year. As you read this story,
alized nap pillows, or treasure boxes. One year, Ken-
ask yourself how sharing the children’s ideas might
dra and Brad, Ann’s after-school teaching colleagues,
inform the collective understandings of their families.
created an activity around the idea of bedtime rituals.
What’s the purpose of their gift exchanges?
The children created a representation of their bedtime