One of my schools’ main social studies units for kindergarten is a unit all on community helpers. Over the past few years I have noticed that most of my students can identify community helpers because of work they have done in preschool. So, I have thought about how I can extend this unit in meaningful ways.
Read alouds are the best place to start for a new unit. I have several read alouds which highlight different jobs of community helpers. I especially love Clothesline Clues to Jobs that People Do by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook because it gives the children clues about the different jobs based on the uniforms and tools and the children get to guess what community helper it is about!
I also have books that specifically focus on learning about the neighborhood and community and people and places that might be in your community. These books are the perfect introduction to start off the unit.
Identifying community helpers
The first lesson I want to teach the children, although most of them know this already, is what are the different community helper jobs. I usually just read some of the books shown above and then show some pictures of different types of helpers.
The main ones that I talk about are: police office, firefighter, mail carrier, trash collector, crossing guard, doctor, nurse, teacher, veterinarian, farmer, and military soldiers. I make sure to correct and model these non-gender specific terms, as opposed to mailman, policeman, fireman, etc. I want my students to see that these jobs are not just for men!
Where do community helpers work?
When learning about specific community helpers, I want to highlight the places that they work. This really helps my students learn about what communities need, which is helpful in some of the extension work I do with them. I like to read books to introduce this and then have students pick a community helper and then draw where they work.
Tools of community helpers
We always want to talk about the tools that community helpers use to do their job and help the community. It is important to know that some tools are just for one type of job. For example, a mask and hose is only used by firefighters, whereas a stethoscope is used by doctors, nurses, and veterinarians. I like to have students match photos of the tools to the photos of the community helpers, as well as color in the tools in a picture.
Types of community helpers
One way that I like to push my students in their learning about community helpers, is to categorize the helpers into three different types of helpers. The different types are ones who keep us safe, keep us healthy, and keep the community running. After discussing as a class, I like to have my students sort the pictures of community helpers into these three categories. I also extend this learning into my emergent reader about community helpers. It is differentiated, so for some students I may just give the simpler version, but for others each page will say what kind of community helper they are.
Extending to Real Life
How can I help the community?
It is important to connect the work that community helpers are doing as adults in their jobs, to what our students can do right now to help their community. A big part of this unit is on learning about jobs, taking care of our community, and responsibility. So how can our students help the community right now? Maybe you as a class can pick up trash, plant flowers, etc. Ask your students and I’m sure you will have many awesome ideas to choose from!
One of the best ways to study community helpers is to have them come visit your classroom! (Or take a field trip to them!) We always invite a local police office and firefighter to our school for a short presentation and question and answer session. We also invite parents who are community helpers in for a short presentation. My students love being able to see all the tools of the police officer and firefighter up close. They also love being able to ask questions. I often jump in to re-focus their questions back to questions about their tools or where they work or how they help the community. The children love to go off on tangents with police officers explaining about the time their parent got a ticket, so it’s good to refocus them from time to time!
Extending into Play
This year I am really focusing on extending our learning into play. I think there are easy ways to bring this unit into our dramatic play and block centers. In dramatic play, we can turn our center into different community helper’s places of work. In the past I have made a doctor’s office, a post office, a school, and a veterinarian’s office. The students love being able to take on these roles and explore with what they have learned in play. Something new I want to try this year is to give my students puppets of the different community helpers and then have them build a community in our block center. Then they can act out the different roles in our block community! I will keep you updated on how that goes, but I am very excited to see what they create!
Community helpers is a wonderful social studies study for young children, but in kindergarten they may have a lot of background knowledge already. So, it is important to extend their learning into real life and into their play.
Comment below with how you like to extend this unit or what you are excited to try!