We are social beings by nature. We all need supportive, responsive relationships in our life. This is called the need to belong. The need to belong is instinctual and is crucial to our wellbeing throughout our lives. Most people want to share life’s successes and challenges with others. People are typically happier if they feel supported with their goals, dreams, failures, and fears. The need to belong appears in practically every aspect of life, from family, work, school, religion, sports, etc.
As early childhood professionals, we must foster nurturing, supportive relationships with our children. We must create an environment where the children belong. It is the foundation to everything we do. Beginning with the day a child is born, they need to feel loved and cared for. Children need to experience being part of a group, regulating their emotions, and solving social conflicts in order to learn cognitive skills such as math concepts and early literacy skills.
Children learn best in an environment where they are happy, relaxed, and connected to others. This includes friends, teachers and family. We build relationships with children by:
- Acknowledging a child’s communication (verbal or non-verbal)
- Greeting children by their name
- Engaging in one-to-one interactions, at eye level
- Using a pleasant, calm voice and simple language
- Providing warm, responsive physical contact
- Following the child’s lead and interests during play
- Listening to children and encourage them to listen to others
- Acknowledging child’s accomplishments & efforts
As early childhood teachers, we have an extremely important role in building the first teacher- child relationships with children in our school setting. This is vital as we guide children to develop the love of learning. Our first encounters with children are setting the tone for their future school experiences. When children transition from our early childhood programs to kindergarten, the following school readiness skills are needed for success:
- Capacity to develop good relationships with peers and adults
- Concentration and persistence on challenging tasks
- Ability to effectively communicate emotions
- Ability to listen to instructions and be attentive
- Ability to solve social problems
When teachers resist the urge to micromanage play and activities, they give children the space they need to explore, experiment, and make and learn from mistakes. The experience of working together to solve problems in both play and projects creates opportunities for children to learn important cooperation skills. It also requires children to rely on one another and to learn from one another’s individual capabilities. Of course, the teacher has a role in guiding the children within the community. The classroom provides a unique environment for children to experience peer relationships and to create their own community of learning. A strong classroom community is one in which children feel empowered and valued, and one in which children will ultimately thrive.
How do teachers create a positive classroom community? Building a classroom community is an all-year endeavor that requires planning and consistency. The following strategies will get you on the right path:
- Get to know your children, their likes and dislikes
- Give children responsibilities and classroom jobs to build the sense of belonging
- Create the classroom rules together to give children a sense of accountability and feel valued
- Keep the rules simple and short – possibly 4-5 rules are enough
- Establish a classroom routine so children know what to expect. A consistent routine helps children feel safe and secure.
- Encourage children to help one another and build friendships
- Display children’s work at eye level to build self-esteem and value
- Involve families with regular communication about what’s happening with their child. Remember, the family is the first and most important educator for their child.
- Have fun with the children and be an active participator in their play.
As we are creating the classroom community, be mindful that the first and most important component that we can do is to build positive relationships with every child and family. Relationships are one of the most beautiful gifts in life because they give us a chance to love and be loved. So, enjoy your children, have fun, and play together!