“Everyone in a community has something to offer. There is no one we don’t need.”
This is a guiding principle for Asset Based Community Development* which is also useful in childcare environments. The children in our communities are spending larger proportions of their childhood in care outside their homes, so it should be considered in their best interest, as well as in the interest of our society, for teachers and caregivers to translate this principle into practice.
Two principles that apply in the world of children are:
1. Everyone has gifts. People can contribute and want to contribute, but gifts must be discovered. In the child care center, we can provide children with environments that are rich with opportunities to discover and develop their skills and gifts. Young children need open-ended equipment. Also important are adults that know that children need freedom and lots of time to engage fully in the environment.
2. Relationships build a community. An intentional effort to build and nourish relationships is the core of Asset Based Community Development and of all community building. For children, relationship building is one of the most important skills we should be nourishing. Our current trend of offering single age groups cannot fully promote the feelings of community like the practice of educating/caring for children inn mixed age groups, particularly in early childhood and the primary grades. Mixed age groups, also called family grouping, can promote pro-social behaviors such as help-giving, sharing and turn-taking. They also facilitate interaction and promote socialization.
Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky was an early proponent of mixed age learning. He thought that the best way for children to learn was through interaction with older, more competent children who could set good examples for cognition and behavior. Social perceptions play an important role in the development of relationships and are an essential part of a child’s increasing social awareness. The formation of friendships is often based on a child’s perceptions of the roles of peers in a variety of social contexts. Younger and older children in mixed age groups will adjust their expectations depending on the ages of the children in their group. Opportunities that encourage young children to appreciate differences in their peers will translate to increased social awareness and more positive social perceptions.
*Collaborative for Neighborhood Transformation. http://www.neighborhoodtransformation.net/ What is Asset Based Community Development?
Photo credits to Jami West and Patric West.