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College of Education > News and Publications > News: April - June 2012 > Carpet-Time Democracy: Carving out Time for Civics in the Classroom

Carpet-Time Democracy: Carving out Time for Civics in the Classroom

Stephanie Serriere believes teachers should give students a chance to experience civic situations.

Serriere_Steph_cp.JPGby Joe Savrock (May 2012)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The ideal of democracy is often overlooked in early childhood classrooms, notes a Penn State researcher.

Stephanie Serriere, assistant professor of social studies education, believes it’s important for teachers to carve out space and time in the classroom to give students an opportunity to experience civic situations. “I believe that ‘social studies’ in the early years is learning those initial skills of deliberation and dialogue—learning to communicate as a part of a community,” said Serriere, whose research focuses on early civic education and children’s experiences of democracy.

Serriere often uses digital photography to encourage young children to discuss and re-envision their own social dilemmas. "Researching young children's experiences and giving them a voice in ways that are comfortable and natural may happen more easily for many children through a photograph," she said.

Serriere observed a class of pre-K children as they practiced what she calls “carpet-time democracy.” With parental permission, she photographed the preschoolers each day as they acted out classroom tasks.

Later each morning, she and the children convened for a “photo talk.” The children examined the photos and offered genuine discussions about details in the images.

Serriere came to recognize that the children’s bubbly discussions could serve as a springboard for articulating and modifying their social reality. “At this point it was an individual method—me talking to children about photos of themselves in play. Then, as children gathered around my laptop, the teachers and I realized the potential for group explorations with the photos,” she said.

“So often we sit the children on the floor to listen to a story, maybe to teach them a lesson about life,” continued Serriere. “But we found that digital photographs projected on the wall were more immediate, and they can be interesting conversation starters about the way things are and how they could be as envisioned by the children themselves.”

Serriere recaps her project in a published article in the journal The Social Studies (vol. 101, pp. 60–68). The article serves as a detailed guide for teachers wishing to promote civic action, social understanding, and justice in their classrooms, as well as for researchers who are interested in visual methodologies.