Encouraging a sense of belonging and connectedness in early childhood education and care
A strong sense of belonging in the early years has fundamental benefits for children and flow-on effects for their learning, development and wellbeing. This guide outlines best-practice approaches for improving a sense of belonging and connectedness in children aged birth to 5 years. Educators and teachers working across diverse early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings can use the guide to support their practice and inform their future planning.
Belonging and connectedness are central themes in the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF V2.0) and underpin most other aspects of wellbeing, including physical, social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing.1 The EYLF V2.0 states that ‘belonging acknowledges children’s interdependence with others and the basis of relationships in defining identities.’2 Connectedness is a component of this sense of belonging and is reflected in a child’s sense of connection to the ECEC environment.
Using this guide in your setting
You can use this guide to support critical reflection in your own practice and in your service. Individuals or educational leaders can also draw on this resource to support collaborative discussion and reflections during team meetings. The guide highlights a variety of evidence-based practices that support children’s sense of belonging, recognising that learning and wellbeing are mutually reinforcing. You can use these practices alongside the work you are already doing, to complement existing practices and ongoing critical reflection. You and your service may already be using the evidence-based practices in this guide. Reflection questions for each evidence-based practice will help expand your thinking and identify opportunities to enhance practice.
Benefits for children
Children aged birth to 5 years develop a strong sense of belonging and connection to people and place through interactions with their peers and responsive adults, exposure to well-designed learning environments and opportunities to be active agents in their own learning.3 For a child, a positive sense of belonging includes feeling that:
- their teachers, educators and peers like, value and accept them •the curriculum is interesting and relevant
- they are capable of succeeding
- their cultural identity is welcome and valued
- they can ‘be themselves’ within appropriate boundaries.4
The practices in this guide have been classified using AERO’s Standards of evidence. Our review of the research and approaches include a mix of papers with medium, high and very high confidence.
The practices in this guide cover how early childhood education and care services can foster belonging and connectedness through creating authentic connections with children and families, providing culturally safe and responsive environments, empowering children’s agency and voice and planning for play-based learning with intentionality. An ongoing commitment to critical reflection and continued professional learning will also enable teachers and educators to enhance children’s sense of belonging.
Research into practices that improve the belonging of children is relatively new and not as well explored. It also includes a larger focus on qualitative and international research. Not all academic research captures the valuable information that teachers and educators regularly collect about children, families and their services to inform practice. The ECEC sector would benefit from further research into whole service approaches and their impact on belonging and connectedness for children.
Belonging and connectedness in practice
AERO evidence reliability key: ◑ = Medium confidence ◕ = High confidence ⬤ = Very high confidence
Research studies on how well each practice improves children’s belonging or connectedness have been assessed against AERO’s Standards of evidence. AERO’s assessment of these studies were then aggregated to produce an overall confidence rating for the practice. The ratings provided below do not reflect the quality of underlying studies, but rather the overall confidence you can have that the practice will work in your context. You can find more information about the research studies reviewed in the annotated reference list.
Consider which of the scenarios in the table below most closely resemble your current practices for supporting belonging and connectedness.