As the school year begins, make group time the time to establish a cooperative classroom community.

Group time is that special time each day when you gather children together to learn how to meet, greet, share, care, and listen. It is here that, together you discuss and create the organization, routine, and rules of the program. The skills children learn here will be applied to everything else they do throughout the day. Group time provides children with a safe place to "practice" living and working cooperatively-a skill they will develop gradually as they mature this year

Try some of the following quick and easy ideas to stage for the year and introduce your class to the rules and routines of your program. And remember to revisit and reuse the ideas throughout the year for practice, fun, and skill reinforcement!

Take a Vote!

Children are more likely to abide by the rules if they have a hand in creating them, so ask them what rules they think are important to have in the classroom. Write their comments on chart paper. Each day, choose a rule to discuss until you have two or three main rules that you can post.

An important part of working as a group is the ability to vote. Children can learn the process of "voting" by taking a vote at the end of all the discussions for the rules or rules they think are most important to have during group time.

Try this: Make a simple bar graph and smiley faces for children's votes. Then invite them to place their smileyface vote in the column of the rule they think is most important. Choose the three or four rules with the most votes as the group-- time rules!

Make a Timeline

Help children remember "What do I do and when do I do it?" by adding visual reminders to your rules chart. Ask children to help you take photos of the major events of the day from start to finish. For the first picture of the day, invite children to discuss the rules for arrival: What do we need to remember to do when we get to school? Continue discussing activities that happen throughout the rest of the day, using the photos as discussion starters. Then, create a timeline by placing the photos in a row from left to right on a long strip of mural paper List the rules you've created together below each picture. This is a big project, so remember that this project will probably span many group-time gatherings. (You can make the chart an active part of your program. When problems arise, ask children to find the time period they are currently in and check for the rules.)

Take Turns

Part of being a community is knowing how to take turns. Turn taking is one of the most important skills young children can learn at the start of the year. You can help children remember whose turn it is to talk by using a soft ball or toy as a tactile and visual reminder. Explain that the toy is a special "talk" object and that whoever is holding it can talk while everyone else pays attention. Children can silently raise their hands when they have something to say. After one child is finished talking, she can roll the ball to another child who would like to talk.

Try using songs such as the following to make the game fun:

Take Your Turn

(Tune: Farmer in the Dell)

I roll the ball to you,

For it's your turn today.

The rest of us will listen well

To what you have to say.

Throughout the Day

One of the first rules children need to learn is how to move smoothly from one activity to another throughout the day. As you know, transitions can be the time when your organization and routine falls apart. One way to help children make successful transitions is to create a transition buddy system. Each day at group time, children can draw a friend's name (or photo) from a basket to see who their buddy is for the day. Then, when you let children know that it is time to move on to another activity or part of the day, they will find their buddy and listen for instructions.