From an early age, children start to develop a sense of belonging and connectedness. They seek a safe place that allows them to explore their needs, wants and emotions freely. A place where they feel protected and cared for.
(A sense of belonging can be defined as) the extent to which individuals feel personally accepted, respected, included, and supported within their social environment.” – Academic studies by Goodenow and Grady, 1993
This has shown to be so instrumental in Early Childhood Education that some psychologists list it as the most important aspect of a child’s development.
The needs for safety, belonging, love relations and for respect can be satisfied only by other people, i.e., only from outside the person. This means considerable dependence on the environment.” – Abraham H. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being
Children who feel respected and valued will immediately adapt to their new environment faster, enabling them to feel a sense of safety and inclusion. They will instantly feel more welcomed to participate and engage, knowing that both their primary and psychological needs are being met. Participation and engagement then leads to an increase in responsiveness to learning and ability to explore through imaginative play. Children are large minds in small bodies; to be nurtured and cared for, protected but not moulded.
When considering a childcare centre or early learning environment for their child, parents often feel the anxieties surrounding their child entering an unknown atmosphere. Will they be safe? Will they be cared for? Will they feel overwhelmed? Similarly, a child can feel these same concerns when they are presented with a new and unfamiliar territory. A lot of the time this is the first moment they have ventured outside of their parent’s bubble, allowing their minds to explore what the big, wide world has to offer without a familiar safety net.
So how can we create a space where children feel connected? When it comes to Early Childhood Eduction, the first step is to remove the boundaries between home life and school life. In doing so, a child may feel that their life flows openly from one area to the next and eradicates any limitations to self-guided learning and exploration.
(A) community is essential to quality outcomes of children. A community provides an important relationship environment; promotes belonging, a sense of identity and learning; supports active participation in the world and continuity of learning; and connects children and families to supportive relationship and resource networks.” – Rhonda Livingston, ACECQA
The key to encouraging inclusion and belonging is relationships. Children have to feel as though the space they are spending their time is reflecting not only the centre’s philosophies but also the culture of the families attending.
The building of relationships and bonds between the educators in a centre and the parents and carers of a child is instrumental in children feeling a bridge between their home life and their childcare. These relationships may have been long-lasting from several children having attended the centre or brand new, ready to blossom. The most important thing is to identify these relationships early, the people your little one sees as important or seeks guidance from and begin the steps to nurture these. Ask questions of your centre to find out who is important to your child, and who their educators will be going forward. Relationships in Early Childhood Centres as like any, they take time and attention. But, like any relationship, they are extremely rewarding. Not only for yourself, but for your child. Seeing their primary care givers working together in such proximity allows the child to know there’s a web of safety under them.
When the adults in charge of the care and learning for a child are on the same page, and speak the same language, a child gets to know stability. They know what answers will come from certain actions and what language to use to derive certain results. They can share stories and developments with their parents and carers and know these same developments are shared with their educators. They can maintain a continued conversation – one that allows for breaks in their train of thought but an ongoing thread of understanding. The child is able to continue where they left off in their personality, not reset each time they are met with a new face or unknown carer.
Children need to feel emotionally and socially supported. The trust your children have in healthy relationships allows them to develop a positive template for relationships in the future, and a baseline of trust in these relationships. This feeling of protection will enable children to develop self-esteem, become socially competent and emotionally expressive.
Early Childhood Australia talks about five ways families can support belonging and inclusion:
- Find out about your service and what your child does there. Ask them questions and get a feel of what they enjoy doing while at the centre.
- Discover your child’s emotional and social needs. Create fun experiences with other children and allow them to discover an appreciation of others.
- Discuss the needs of your child with their educators. Every child is different and part of them feeling included is for them to be heard.
- Be informed and get involved. Ask questions about what is happening at your centre and find out if there’s anything you can do to get involved.
- Get to know other families at the service.
Creating an environment where children feel safe and protected is significant in providing a foundation for growth and development. Their academic, social, mental health and emotional outcomes are all built on this. The strength of the relationships between the important adults around them will determine, in turn, the strength of the relationships they create themselves.
The fundamental early years in a child’s development are shared between educators and family and it’s our honour and duty to walk this journey with them. We create a world for them to enjoy and explore and this world begins with our partnerships. We start with a word, continue with a phrase and develop with a conversation that leads to a village: a village of support for each child to lean on as they grow. A village to be proud of.