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Conflict Resolution Education in USA - Educational Practice for everyone to become a peacemaker - 1. Interview with Susan Fountain: Conflict Resolution Education for Early Childhood


Conflict Resolution Education, CR Education, is conducted throughout the U.S., and aims to develop the ability in children to solve daily conflicts or trouble themselves.
Through an internship at Morningside Center, NPO in New York, I had the opportunity to visit public kindergartens and primary schools to observe the practice of CR Education. In CR Education, schools work with NPOs to build a learning environment for everyone to study in safety, and I found it innovative in that children learn to cope with daily conflicts or trouble and gain the confidence to solve problems themselves.
Bullying, school absenteeism and children's problematic behavior in schools and communities are matters of grave concern in Japan. Here I introduce interviews with two experts on CR Education, hoping that CR Education will provide some suggestions for education in Japan.

Conflict Resolution Education for Early Childhood
Susan Fountain

   Interviewee: Ms. Susan Fountain
Instructor/Trainer/Curriculum Designer/Evaluator
Current Consulting Work: Curriculum Writer, US Fund for UNICEF/ Director of Educational Programs, InterConnections 21, /Adjunct Instructor, International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, Teachers College, Columbia University/ Staff Developer, Children's Creative Response to Conflict,
Publications: Our Right to Be Protected from Violence: Activities for Learning and Taking Action. United Nations Secretary-General's Study on Violence Against Children, Geneva, Switzerland,2006/ Learning Together: Global Education 4-7, Stanley Thornes, Cheltenham, England, 1990

1. General Question

a. When, why and how did you get involved in the CRE for early childhood?

My very first teaching job was at a small school that had a really strong emphasis on Social Emotional Learning. Social Emotional Learning at that time was not a separate part of curriculum, it was just part of how we lived and worked with children even though they didn't call it that at the time.

My next job was teaching at the Laboratory Nursery School at the College. They had a very big Child Development Program. I was a teacher at the pre-school there and taught an underground psychology course too. They had developed program called Early Childhood Problem Solving.
I found it just remarkable to see even children as young as 3 years old using the skills they had learned very effectively. Then I really realized that it is a good time to teach those things because they learn very quickly and they don't have a lot of experience with conflict that they have to undo. Children are very open in their pre-school years. That is why I've become more interested in working at the early childhood level.

In 1982-87, I taught at the UN School Kindergarten in Geneva. At that time, my focus was teaching conflict resolution for young children. I have developed Early Childhood Program, which became the book textbook "Learning Together: Global Education 4-7" which was translated into Japanese.

b. How do you see the purpose of the CRE for early childhood?

Well, many things come to mind. I think it is to help children to feel competent and have a sense of self-efficacy, which is a sense that you can manage yourself in a group. The idea is to help children manage their emotions and anger and developing the capacity to communicate. Children begin to recognize that there is an other out there, so it's a kind of process of de-centering.

And I know that in the classical Piagetlian sense, it doesn't happen there. But I think that the interaction can be planned for children to support moving to the next stages of awareness of others. It's not entirely biological based, but there is a social component to it, too, so I think that is very important.

I think it important to establish an attitude for peace. It's also important to recognize that conflict is normal, and when it happens, you try to do something.
They should know that they can do something themselves, that there are options.

2. Curriculum Development

a. What do you think is the most important thing when you teach CRE for early childhood? In the book "Learning Together: Global Education 4-7," you have focused on self-esteem, communication and cooperation as important skills for early childhood. Are those three still most important for early childhood?

I began focusing less on self-esteem since how people look at self-esteem is a culturally sensitive issue. At the time I developed the program, I didn't have much experience with cultural diversity, but now I have noticed that self-esteem is more a western kind of model. Particularly, at this age level, I have come to focus on similarities and differences, how we are same and how we are different. It is important to teach that differences are good and healthy and they are fun. I have become more focus on conflict resolution and problem-solving in a more explicit way. I was really going to write about this in the book, but I didn't at that time because I was thinking about what fundamental skills for early childhood.

At that age it is more about what the options are and thinking about how many options we have. It is important to ask children to think about what will happen next if they take a particular action. That is not particularly easy to do in early childhood. I don't think that children at that age are completely capable of doing all things, but of course it depends on the child. But they need to get used to the questions. I don't think children are asked those questions, but I think you can do work with them.
For example, you can stop while reading a book and ask children what they think is going to happen next, or pause a video and ask them the same question. Get the children think about anticipating the consequences. This is a very important skill.

b. What age do you think is appropriate for starting the program, and why?

It depends on how you think about this kind of education. I think that even at an early age, children are very interested in each other. Even at 10 months, a child might reach out and grab the hair of another child and teacher can teach another way to handle the conflict. You can physically change the tone of the voice and say, "Let's be gentle with your friend." You can establish the climate. It has an impact on the kids. Child picks up adults' attitudes and behaviors towards conflict and themselves. They feel they have done something wrong, so, you can start to communicate with some of these attitudes even long before children are verbal. I think they are really at a thematic level. At the earliest, I think you can start at the age of three. At four, you can introduce a bit more.

c. What has been wonderful in developing the curriculum for early childhood?

I think the receptiveness of children and teachers. Teachers are really looking for what to do, how to handle conflicts with children better. I think most curricula for early childhood should not just focus on problem solving, but also on cooperation and communication, building a good sense of climate and that sort of thing, a kind of conflict prevention, so, I think teachers respond to these ideas very well and really want concrete ideas.

When you look at early childhood teachers, there is obviously a wide range in how well prepared they are for those jobs. In particular, at daycare centers, there is no formal training for teachers. I found them very responsive to the workshop, they are very keen on the practical ideas that they can take home. That is something I enjoy a lot.

d. What has been challenging in developing the curriculum for early childhood?

I think one of the challenges is indeed the level of preparation of teachers. It can be hard for teachers to have a big picture that conflict is not something you should manage but it's a part of children's lives. Children will hit another child and they can learn how to express the feeling, but the teacher tends to make them stop this behavior and they don't see it as part of a larger social emotional learning process. It is most challenging for me to get this across to those teachers who may not have professional training and a background in child development.

3. Implementation

a. What has been wonderful in implementing the CRE for early childhood?

What was wonderful is seeing children start to use those kinds of processes spontaneously, within a few months. If you do it consistently, you can see the changes certainly in a year.
If you don't do it consistently, forget about it.
You can see the changes in younger children quicker than in older ones.
Younger children don't have resistance to trying something new or very little resistance. Generally, they try new things.

b. What has been challenging in implementing the CRE?

One of the challenges for me is just being personally aware of my own cultural assumptions. That's very important because even with the young children, they may bring their own cultural predispositions into the classroom.

I think being sensitive to that is important. And I should realize that the first way to teach the kids that comes to me may not be the best way for a particular group of children or for particular individuals.
I think also awareness of learning styles is important. It becomes apparent that there are differences in learning styles even in the early childhood years.
I think it is important to find the ways to reach children who have range of learning styles. Some kids are not verbally or linguistically oriented, but tend to respond through music, movement, instruments, and this just broaden what becomes conflict resolution.
We should think about how to build a holistic approach, and just not stick to the conflict resolution education. It is important to come down to the children's language, but also to think about what is developmentally appropriate for children.

4. Impact

a. Did you see changes in classroom climate as a result of the program?

It depends on the indicator of classroom climate. It is useful for teachers to talk about this before they implement the program.

There were definitely changes in the classroom climate as a result of the program. I think that empathy can change the climate. Children bring a problem for the circle time. At the beginning of the year, some children even don't focus on the circle time, but by the end of the year they are thinking about problems and thinking about the ways to solve the problem.

I remember that when I was teaching 5-year-old children, in the middle of the year, one child had a very severe emotional problem, and I was really concerned about how this child was affecting the other children and classroom climate. When he was in a classroom, he stayed under the table and barricaded himself with chairs. I thought it would be very difficult to have this child in the class, but the children accepted him and just said that's just how he is.
They didn't isolate him, stereotype him, stigmatize him or stare at him, but they just welcomed him into the class when he came around. They just accepted that he needed time and it was OK. I think they felt safe, too, because we had a safe classroom climate. I think talking about feelings makes the climate safer. Children thought that he might be feeling scared by acting that way. After a little while, he got used to the class and stopped that behavior. By the end of the year, he became a wonderful kid.

b. Did you see changes in the school climate as a result of the program?

I think we need a school-wide approach to see changes in the school climate. One teacher cannot change the climate. We need a school-wide commitment, which has to come from the principal. I used to believe that teachers and parents could change the school climate, but that is not happening, at least in this country.

c. Were there ways you changed as a result of the program?

The more I do, the more I believe it works, and the more I realized that I am really a model. You have to be a model for what you are trying to get the kids to do. Sometimes, I get lose it, angry or yell because I am a human, but you can certainly talk to the kids about it and that's very effective. I ask the children what I could have done and how they could help me and because they have feelings about it, it helps them to talk.

When you start teaching conflict resolution to children, you start your own life. I think it is a life-long learning process. Conflict resolution is a kind of journey, and I'll carry on with this journey.

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