In the age of social distancing, communities changed. Our common struggles might’ve united us, but communities aren’t the same when we can’t be physically present. It’s much harder for children, who require companionship in the physical form, to develop their sense of community.
Thankfully, it’s becoming much safer in America now, and schools have reopened. But the threat of COVID-19 stays. As young kids who couldn’t be vaccinated yet are most at risk, pre-K schools have adopted robust health and safety measures to reduce the risks of viral transmission on the campus. Parents can rest assured that their little ones will be in good hands. But of course, one more concern needs to be addressed: how children can develop a sense of community with social distancing in place.
What is a Sense of Community?
In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it is shown that humans should meet their psychological needs after the essentials, which are food, water, and shelter. Psychological needs refer to a sense of belonging and self-esteem, two of which communities can fulfill.
Once we’ve met all of these needs — essentials and psychological — then we can reach our full potential.
To help young kids meet their psychological needs, schools should build a community culture. And this is a process that can’t be accomplished overnight. Schools develop their community culture through careful planning and daily practice. It is only then that they will create change and maintain a positive school climate.
Just like at home, a sense of community between family members doesn’t happen instantly. It takes time and effort to create and maintain a harmonious relationship. If the parents are always absent, for example, chances are the kids wouldn’t grow up close with their parents. They’d have a stronger sense of community with their guardians.
In school, it’s the teachers and other leaders who would develop a community culture. And they can do it by setting an example. Students follow their leaders’ example, so if they don’t see harmony existing between the teachers, they’d also assume that friendships aren’t valued in the school. They could even think that their teachers are competing with one another.
On the contrary, if teachers, principals, and other school officials demonstrate a familial bond, they can influence the students to form the same bond. There would be no hostility between classes or between seniors and juniors. Students can also be friendly with some staff members — as long as it’s within healthy boundaries — like the librarian, cleaners, and maintenance personnel.
Sense of Community in a Pandemic
One of the ways schools build communities is through group activities. They organize class trips, on-campus events, academic competitions and encourage extracurricular activities. But with today’s pandemic, group activities are limited, if not outright forbidden.
Most schools turned to virtual group activities to maintain their community culture. Teachers prepared games that required teamwork so that pupils would learn how to work together despite being apart. Activities that strengthened and built friendships were also done, allowing pupils and students to feel connected to their class even without being physically present.
Some schools even go as far as work with international organizations. They allow some of their students to participate in virtual conferences, which also invite students from all over the world. As a result, students learned to widen their perspectives and become more open-minded. And, of course, they developed a sense of community with new people.
Young kids, like prekindergartens or grade school pupils, might be too young for such wide-scale events, but they’re capable of working with new people, too. Now that they can go to school again, their teachers can bring them to another community and let them interact with its people. It could be a charitable activity, which will teach kids how to be compassionate and helpful. Or it could just be a fun school trip, where kids can meet other pupils their age and play with them. It would teach kids that coming from different communities shouldn’t divide people but create opportunities for being open-minded.
Another excellent community-building idea is participating in cleanup drives. Kids and teachers can visit public parks and pick up trash, then segregate them. This would teach children that they’re responsible for the maintenance of their communities, which includes their physical environment. And, of course, segregating trash will impart lessons on environmental matters.
The pandemic might’ve limited the ways we can foster communities, but it also opened up new opportunities to do so. It’s indeed sad that our children will grow up in the age of social distancing, but this circumstance can also teach them to build connections in more creative ways.