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Communication: An Introduction

Communicating is the foundation of our relationships and interactions in our personal and professional lives. This lesson provides an introduction to the important role communication plays in the school-age learning environment.

  • Define communication and discuss its importance.
  • Describe three types of communication.
  • Reflect on your own ideas and experiences associated with communication.


" Of all the life skills available to us, communication is perhaps the most empowering." - Brett Morrison


Consider the ways you have communicated today. Did you have a conversation, send a text, or write a note? Maybe you smiled and said “Hello” to your neighbor or waved goodbye to a family member. Did you watch the news or read the newspaper before heading to work? You may have checked your email or visited a social networking site. You could have done some or all of those things before even going to work. What about when you arrived at work? You may have shared information with coworkers, made notes for family members, or given instruction to children and youth. Did you check any information boards or familiarize yourself with the daily schedule? There are many forms of communication that we use on a daily basis to share and gather information and to express our thoughts and feelings to others.

As we grow and develop, our ability to communicate is strengthened. Think about the difference in a child’s ability to communicate versus an adult’s. Can you remember what it was like to be a child and not be able to make your point understood or tell your family member or teacher what you needed? Chances are this felt very frustrating. This frustration is why children and youth often resort to nonverbal forms of communication such as crying, hitting, or acting out.

School-age children and youth are continuing to develop and strengthen their communication skills. They are learning appropriate ways of sharing information and expressing their thoughts and feelings, as well as being responsible for gathering and sharing information necessary to their lives.

What is Communication?

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards defines communication as “a tool that human beings use to meet their physical, social, and emotional needs” (2012, p. 27). Communication is more than just the exchange of information; to be effective, there must be a shared understanding of the message and it meaning between the person sending the message and the person receiving it. Communication is missed when we fail to interpret the correct emotions or intent of the message.

Effective communication involves a variety skills, including nonverbal communication, active listening, emotional awareness, and the ability to manage stress. Communication can be achieved through spoken language, as well as through facial expressions, gestures, movements, postures, and touch. Pictures, images and written symbols are means to communicate. No matter the method, effective communication can help support and improve relationships, teamwork, decision-making and problem solving. According to researchers Robert Stillman and Ellin Siegel-Causey (1989), people communicate for different reasons:

  • To affect another person’s behavior
  • To offer information
  • To convey thoughts and feelings
  • For the purely social reason of engaging in an interaction with someone

Communication is a vital part of nearly everything we do in our lives, both personally and professionally. We communicate in a variety of ways on a daily basis with the goal of being understood and understanding others. The main categories of communication are:

  • Spoken or Verbal Communication: This category of communication uses oral language to share information or express feelings and thoughts. Examples of verbal communication include participating in a conversation or giving instructions.
  • Nonverbal Communication: This is how we express our feelings and thoughts and share information without using spoken language. Examples of nonverbal communication are body language, gestures, facial expressions, touch, and the use of images.
  • Written Communication: This category of communication uses the written language to express our feelings and thoughts or share information. Examples of written communication are posted signs, letters or email, labels, and creative writing.
    • Electronic communication is a type of written communication. Examples of electronic communication are sending and receiving email and text messages and using social networking sites to share information or express our feelings and thoughts.
    • An evolving element of electronic communication is the use of emoticons, emoji’s, gifs and abbreviated phrases associated with social media and texting technologies. While these are both sent electronically they may also be forms of non-verbal communications that can express different emotions and meanings based on the context of the message. At one time the use of this type of electronic communication was associated with younger generations, however the usage of emoticons, emoji’s, abbreviated phrases and other technologies associated with smart phones is now common across generations.

Effective Communication

As a school-age staff member, you will be communicating with families, children and youth, coworkers, school representatives, and community members on a regular basis. It is important to know when to use formal or informal communication methods, and which is appropriate in each setting, to effectively share information or express yourself.

Examples of formal communication are:

  • A planned meeting or conference. When a meeting or conference is planned with a family, child, school representative, or other professional, formal communication methods should be used. Preparation is an important part of formal communication and you will need to gather the information necessary beforehand so you can speak knowledgably on the subject being discussed.
  • A written form. There may be occasions when you will need to complete a form or write a letter. Examples might include incident reports, certificates, or awards. You might use a form to document an incident or to record a conference or conversation you had with a family. To complete this task, you must ensure that you have accurate information. Check with your program’s policy to determine if you need to have any formal written communication pieces approved by your supervisor prior to completion.
  • Activity planning. Planning activities will be another function of your role as a school-age staff member. It is important to do research, collect information, brainstorm, and use available resources when planning activities. This is considered formal communication because it is structured, planned, and presented in a form that will be displayed and shared with others.
  • Activity presentation. Giving presentations to children and families is also a formal method of communication. You should plan and organize your information in a way that allows you to effectively and clearly communicate your plan or topic.
  • Flyers or outreach materials. You may need to communicate with children, youth, and families about upcoming events. Flyers and announcements should be professional, attractive, and free of errors. Check with your program’s policy to determine if you need to have any formal written communication pieces approved by your supervisor prior to completion.

Examples of informal communication are:

  • An unplanned conversation with families, children and youth, or other professionals. These conversations will make up the bulk of your communication with children, youth and families. They are unscripted and occur naturally. These conversations may be friendly exchanges about the day or brief reminders about upcoming events.
  • A note to families. Sometimes you may need to write a quick note to a family. This can be considered an informal form of communication. Examples of this may be reminding families to bring program materials for their child or about upcoming events.

As a school-age staff member, you will need to know when to use both formal and informal methods of communication. It is important to know when an informal conversation should become a formal meeting or conference. If a family member or child starts a conversation about a sensitive topic or addresses a private matter concerning an incident or situation, it is important to move the conversation to a private place. For example, if a parent comes to you while you are on the playground supervising children and youth, and wishes to discuss concerns about a recent incident, you should not continue to have that conversation. You should set up a time in the near future to sit down with the family and discuss their concerns. This would allow you to continue to properly supervise the children and youth in your care, keep the subject of the conversation private, and prepare for the meeting.

Communication and School-Age Child Development

Language is at the core of how we communicate and develop our communication skills. This makes communication a crucial part of a child’s development, particularly their cognitive and social skills. Communication skills play a role in the way we create relationships and participate in social or academic events. Further, they are linked to our self-esteem.

As children and youth develop, their communication skills are typically assessed by families, teachers, and pediatricians in four components or domains. These are:

  • Skills drawingListening
  • Speaking
  • Reading
  • Writing

These four areas will be used to make sure that children and youth are on track with their cognitive and social development. In a later lesson, you will be provided with more details about these four categories and how school-age children and youth develop their communication skills throughout the years.


Being a positive role model for school-age children and youth is an important part of your job. Listen as these staff members discuss how modeling effective communication can help children and youth express themselves in positive ways.

Modeling Positive Communication Skills

Watch this video to learn about the significance of modeling communication skills for children's development


School-age children and youth look up to you, and they learn a great deal from how you communicate. As a school-age staff member, one of the best ways you can support the development of communication skills in your school-age program is to reflect on how you communicate. Reflecting on a regular basis will help you become aware of how you are communicating and make you a stronger model for school-age children and youth.

  • Think about the ways you communicate in your daily life. Are your messages often misunderstood? Do you practice effective communication skills by making eye contact and actively listening? If not, now is the time to pay attention to how you communicate and make changes as necessary.
  • What types of communication methods do you use? Are you using formal and informal communication as appropriate? Can you think of a time you had a public conversation that should have been private? Think about how you communicate with children, families, coworkers, and other people in your life.
  • What kinds of changes have you noticed in your own communication skills over the years? Have you become a stronger communicator since you were a school-age child? Do you shy away from communication and rely on emailing and texting instead of face-to-face communication? Are you more comfortable speaking in front of or addressing large groups?
  • How has technology played a role in the way you communicate? Do you participate in social networking and other digital forms of communication? Are you familiar with meanings of common emoticons, emojis, and texting abbreviations?

Thinking about these points on a regular basis will help you reflect on your own communication style and build upon your skills. Take the time to reflect on this regularly and note the changes you see in yourself. If you tend to shy away from direct communication, challenge yourself to engage in more face-to-face conversations. Now is the perfect time to work on your own communication skills so that you can be a good role model for school-age children.

Completing this Course

For more information on what to expect in this course, the Communication & Language Development Competency Reflection, and a list of the accompanying Learn, Explore and Apply resources and activities offered throughout the lessons, visit the School-Age Communication & Language Development Course Guide

Please note the References & Resources section at the end of each lesson outlines reference sources and resources to find additional information on the topics covered. As you complete lessons, you are not expected to review all the online references available. However, you are welcome to explore the resources further if you have interest, or at the request of your trainer, coach, or administrator.


Read and review the Exploring Communication activity and take a few minutes to respond to the questions. Then, share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach, or administrator.


Communication and sharing of ideas are central to our lives. Take a little bit of time to learn more about one of the digital spaces where ideas are shared: TED conferences. In its own words, TED is a nonprofit “devoted to ideas worth spreading.” World-famous artists, scientists, and inventors share their thought-provoking ideas in short multimedia presentations.

Challenge your own thoughts on communication by watching a few of these videos. Follow the links to the videos listed in the activity, Communication Ideas Worth Spreading. Watch some great thinkers share their views on communication and answer the questions within the activity. Share your responses with your trainer, coach, or administrator.


Verbal Communication:
The use of oral language to share information or express feelings and thoughts. Examples of verbal communication include participating in a conversation or giving instructions.
Nonverbal communication:
How we express feelings and thoughts and share information without using oral language. Examples of nonverbal communication include body language, gestures, facial expressions, touch, and the use of images.
Written communication:
The use of written language to express feelings or thoughts, or share information. Examples of written communication include posted signs, letters or email, using labels, and creative writing.
Informal communication:
This is appropriate to use when there is general information for all parents to know, such as the schedule, policies, or upcoming events.
Formal communication:
This method should be planned with the purpose of providing specific and important information.
Components of communication:
Speaking, listening, reading, and writing make up the components of communication, which are used commonly by teachers and pediatricians to assess communication development.


True or false? Informal methods of communication such as quick conversations at pick-up time should be used to discuss serious issues, such as behavior concerns, with families.
You have noticed that one of the school-age children frequently uses facial expressions and gestures to communicate. Which form of communication is the child using?
Children’s communication skills are usually assessed in what four areas?
References & Resources

Berk, L. E. (2013). Child development (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (2012). Early Childhood Generalist Standards for teachers of ages 3-8 (3rd ed.).

Siegel-Causey, E., & Guess, D. (1989). Enhancing nonsymbolic communication interactions among learners with severe disabilities. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Stillman, R., & Siegel-Causey, E. (1989). Introduction to Nonsymbolic Communication. In E. Siegel-Causey & D. Guess (Eds.), Enhancing nonsymbolic communication interactions among learners with severe disabilities (pp. 1-13). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Trawick-Smith, J. W. (2014). Early Childhood Development: A Multicultural Perspective (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.