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How Learning environments contribute to a child’s sense of belonging

Supporting children in developing a positive self-identity can help to foster a sense of belonging. This can be achieved through positive reinforcement, building on strengths and interests, and allowing children to express themselves freely.

Written by: Early Educational Advisor - Jo Harris  

As the year begins and children settle into their new environments, creating spaces that contribute to their sense of belonging is paramount.

For many Early Learning Educators, conversation often begging with the look and feel of the learning environment. Whilst the overall design of a building may be fixed, the way that the furnishings and resources are arranged and placed have the greatest impact. 

The Early Years Learning Framework stipulates ‘Learning Environments that are vibrant, flexible and responsive to the interests and abilities of each child cater to different learning capacities and learning styles.’ As educators observe children playing, they can learn the specific ways to meet the criteria of the EYLF through reflection. Listening to their words and watching the way children interact with others assists educators in learning about their interests, that leads to creating engaging play spaces.

This could include setting up smaller spaces for individual play for children who require more physical space or time with resources or larger spaces which meet the needs of activities that are very popular with the children.

How Early Learning spaces can create a sense of belonging

Organising spaces and resources that are clearly defined with a purpose instils a sense of confidence in a community for children. Encouraging independence and autonomy in this way supports the connection and relationships that are being formed. 

When children can see and identify what they are learning from interacting with resources and play spaces, it bolsters their confidence and, ultimately their ability to engage more independently with them and the people who are sharing the experiences with them. 

Adding texture, colour, and a variety of materials within activities and play spaces can reflect the cultural diversity of the group members in activities and throughout the physical environment supporting a feeling of belonging. 

Including items from children’s home environments could include the placement of framed photographs at the children’s level, allowing them to feel connected at any time of the day.  Treasured copies of books that are shared at bedtime can be read during rest time with children to create a sense of comfort and familiarity.  

Inviting family members to participate in experiences with the whole group creates a sense of belonging and community that reflects the diversity of the members who it is made up of. 

How Educators can nurture a sense of belonging

The success of a relationship involves time, care, and attention. Considering the needs of each party is essential, and it is through open communication that they can be shared. Creating this requires a regular daily commitment to ask children questions, listen to their answers and reflect on how to work together to meet these needs. 

Children often have unique preferences that are attached to their daily routines, such as where they might sit at the snack table or who they want to be next to during relaxation time. 

Offering children an element of choice within these daily routines might mean using reflective listening techniques to support them in identifying how to articulate their needs or giving them some options to consider if they cannot be immediately met.

When children’s basic needs are met by respecting and honouring their requests, it creates a sense of trust and security in the relationship and their sense of belonging to a group. 

Discovering people’s values and priorities is critical to nurturing positive associations between educators, families, and the service your community is providing education and care for. Feeling that they are respected through warm and engaging interactions is an important step that, with consistency, provides the greatest impact. 

How creating a sense of place builds belonging

The essence of the theoretical early childhood frameworks is the connections forged when children feel a sense of belonging. For educators to remain flexible in catering to meet the needs of a variety of different learning styles within a group, there needs to be a willingness to think critically.

When children feel safe, they are more likely to participate, and the learning flows easily. Having a sense of safety invites children to take risks and make choices that align with their budding confidence in forming relationships and a resilient outlook toward life. 

Children who have pets are inclined to see them as an extension of their human family and are a source of comfort to them, especially during times of change and transition. They are often perceived as providing unconditional love by offering stability and presence, which is integral to feeling the trust that is required in a reciprocal relationship.

Many imaginative play activities selected for an educational program include the addition of animals which inspire play that is linked to learning and discussions that centre around the concept of family and, in particular, the aspect of belonging. Through many of these experiences, children learn from modelled social skills that they will use during free play with peers. 

A positive ripple effect can be generated throughout a group from the benefit of one learner’s experience, which boosts the confidence of all its members. Learning to care for one another occurs through bonding, carrying the unique points of view of each person and their shared life experiences, and merging them together within the learning community. 

The Impact of Positive relationships on Early Learning

Forming connections with others is a basic human right that begins from birth and continues throughout our lifetime. Having these needs met with consistency, warmth, and predictability is essential for trust to form as part of social and emotional development.  

Supporting children in developing a positive self-identity can help to foster a sense of belonging. This can be achieved through positive reinforcement, building on strengths and interests, and allowing children to express themselves freely. Through repetition and daily experience, children learn to transfer those learned skills as they communicate with others. Respecting that there may be unique ways in which they are met for each child means that educators and families must collaborate to help them shape positive self-identities. 

Positive relationships with educators, peers, and families play a key role in building a sense of belonging. It is important to create opportunities for children to engage with each other and build strong bonds through play and other routine activities.

For more ideas to support children in developing positive relationships that focus on the elements of belonging, please visit


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