Judy Kynaston – National Project Manager, KidsMatter, Early Childhood Australia

 

Having a sense of belonging is a fundamental human need.  People seek out meaningful, lasting relationships with others in order to meet their need to belong.  These relationships consist of interactions that are enjoyable, frequent, and have genuine regard for each other’s wellbeing. 

 

Belonging and connectedness bring people together and provide a sense of having a place in the world.

 

For children, a sense of belonging is important for a sense of identity, security, building relationships and their ability to explore and interact in the world.  All children need to feel that their world is a safe place where people will respect and care for them.  They also need to feel supported, know that their needs will be met and that they can get help to work out any problems.

 

Tracey Simpson – Early Childhood Consultant

 

When children have a sense of belonging in their early childhood service, they are able to feel comfortable, they feel settled and they have some power over their experience in their day.  That means that they’re able to engage in activities and relationships and develop at a regular pace.  In addition to that there’s a sense of absolute wellbeing.  I belong here, I’m important, I can do these things.  And it doesn’t matter what that looks like for every child, because it will look different, but what is important is that absolutely sense of wellbeing and the opportunity to develop at their rate in this place.

 

Dr Sophie Havighurst – Clinical Child Psychologist

 

The feelings of belonging for children are really critical for a sense of security.  And when a child is in the early years they first of all really learn those skills in the family context.  So an experience of being secure, of being able to predict how people will act around you, of being part of a family, of being loved, being cared for.  As they move into an early childhood setting it’s also very critical that they have that feeling of belonging and of being safe, of being secure in who they are in that setting and that they will be cared for, valued, and seen as part of that setting. 

 

Robyn Dolby - Clinical Psychologist

 

So, when you think of children having positive relationships and a sense of belonging, it really builds in protective mental health factors.  First of all, they feel differently about themselves.  They feel loved.  And if they feel different on the inside, they're going to be different on the outside.  So when they enter a group, for example, they may walk in.  And if they feel like, I'm a person with good ideas because my educator just was sharing an idea; I knew she liked my idea. 

 

Judy Kynaston – National Project Manager, KidsMatter, Early Childhood Australia

 

Belonging is also addressed at a service level to ensure children, families and educators feel valued, accepted, respected, cared about by others, and happy to be a part of the community.  

 

A key factor in building a positive sense of community is for early childhood services to create supportive opportunities for children and families to be involved and work together. This sense of belonging enriches experiences for all children and families and early childhood staff.

 

Anne Stonehouse - Early Childhood Consultant  

 

What comes to my mind is that when you belong to an education and care service, you’re known and you know that you’re known.  You feel welcomed.  There’s a certain sense of comfort and feeling relaxed when you’re there, that this is my place, I know how things work here.  If you’re a parent, I know that it’s fine to hang around in the room until I feel ready to go.  If it’s a family day care situation, I know that it’s okay for me to put my child’s lunch in the refrigerator.  That sense of this place is familiar and I can be myself here. 

 

Judy Kynaston – National Project Manager, KidsMatter, Early Childhood Australia

 

Early childhood services that promote and prioritise belonging feel a certain way when we enter. When fostering belonging, educators consider carefully and plan for the physical environment, the relationships between people, and whether families and children see and feel themselves reflected in the culture of the service.

 

Catharine Hydon – Early Childhood Consultant

 

Some people are going to feel an instant sense of belonging, they’re going to walk in and it’s exactly how they imagined it to be, and the children are exactly how they imagined it to be, and it will suit them down to the ground, and there will be things in the space that exactly look like them, and they’re going to love it, and their sense of belonging is high.  Other children are going to take some time to feel that.  Our ultimate goal is to ensure that all of those children, including the ones who find it difficult end up with a sense of belonging.

 

Dr Luke Touhill – Early Childhood Consultant

 

I think we do need to make people feel welcome around language, around culture, around beliefs—all those kind of things so that—I think if we look around our environments we think, ‘Well where would a child or a parent coming into this setting—where would they find something that they can relate to?’  If everything in our setting is completely different to what they’re used to—it doesn’t reflect the home environment at all, it doesn’t reflect their cultural background at all—that can be a really confronting environment to come into. 

 

So I think belonging is not just about feeling welcome it’s about feeling welcome in an inclusive way.  So it’s just not I feel welcome and that’s good for me, it’s I feel welcome and I want to make you feel welcome.  So sometimes it is that reaching out, it’s that making someone feel a part of things.  So it is things like, you know at a very basic level it’s things like as educators knowing who people are, knowing people’s names, knowing a bit about them, being able to have a conversation, showing them that you remember who they are that you remember what they told you last time, makes you feel like that was a genuine conversation. 

 

Tracey Simpson – Early Childhood Consultant

 

People who say our service, my service, at times you want to say no it’s everyone’s but the fact that they take that ownership links to their sense of belonging there and so being valued and feeling strong about yourself comes out of that sense of belonging here and now.