Early Childhood Today: Shannon, what kinds of activities have you found to be particularly effective in helping children learn to communicate?

Shannon Crossland: Each morning, we start our day by having a group meeting. The children talk about an activity they enjoyed at home the night before. Then we take attendance. Children look at the attendance photo chart (they place their photo on the chart when they arrive) and discuss who is not present.

After breakfast, children have quiet book time, as well as reading with teachers and peers. We include storytelling, finger plays, and interesting flannel-board activities.

Another activity that supports communication is our family-style meals. We eat breakfast and lunch family style every day. This gives everyone the opportunity to discover more about language, manners, sharing, and self-esteem.

ECT: How do you encourage communication with those children who may be unresponsive or reluctant to engage with others?

Crossland: I've learned that it's important to take a step back at the beginning of the year and allow children to ease themselves into their new environment. Also, understanding more about each child's interest and altering the curriculum to suit their particular needs helps them feel more welcome.

In our program, we pair children at the start of school, so there is a buddy system in place. Together, children explore the class, the school, and the playground. This helps them feel a little more at ease.

ECT: It sounds as though the process of children getting to know one another is a very gradual one. Are there rules and rituals in place to help children function as a group?

Crossland: At the beginning of the year, children help to create their own classroom rules. And we engage them in lots of team-building activities, such as naming our class pets and clean-up responsibilities. We try to get children to understand the importance of working together and sharing responsibilities. We introduce weekly cooperative activities (completing a floor puzzle together, cleaning a section of the room, completing an art project together on the same piece of paper).

Something that works extremely well in our program is our "Acts of Kindness" chain. The goal is to get the individual paper links that hang from the ceiling to touch the floor. Children get a link with their name on it if they perform an act of kindness.

ECT: Even with your emphasis on cooperation, conflicts inevitably arise. How do you work with children to resolve them?

Crossland: We encourage children to use their own words to express how they are feeling and how they view difficult situations. We mediate when necessary, so that children stay focused, and, if need be, to provide the words that will help articulate their feelings. At times it feels easier to just provide children with solutions to different problems, but we understand the importance of teaching children to use these conflict-resolution techniques.