Creating a Sense of Belonging for Every Child.

Project author:

Project summary:

This study will look at how the settling-in process can be a fulfilling one where each child feels welcome, secure, included and empowered. This is a quantitative research project which sought to explore eight ante preschool children as they transitioned into our ELC.

Introduction

This project looks closely at how our children ‘settle’ into our ELC and develop a sense of ownership and belonging. This project connects with the Froebelian Principle of Unity and Connectedness while weaving respectfully through the UNCRC Rights of the Child, Building the Ambition: Being Me, Curriculum for Excellence, The Four Capacities, HGIOELC and our Local Authorities Personal Plans.

Recently, I moved settings and I had difficulty ‘Settling In’ to my new environment. This led me to reflect on our expectations for our young learners as they begin their journey.

The purpose of this project is to ascertain the positive peer/adult interactions to develop a sense of belonging and what this may ‘feel’ like in our ELC.

Froebel believed that the child’s environment and the adults, who care for them, play a crucial role in shaping a child’s development. My role in this research project is to ensure that the environment we create, alongside our children is a nurturing and stimulating one. This is essential when cultivating a sense of belonging in a safe environment to develop a child’s holistic growth.

Context

I have often heard ‘settling in’ to nursery being described as a process or a procedure and this led me to look closely at what we offer our families and what that might ‘feel’ like to them. Is it just that, a process or do we include them fully in our procedures so that they ‘feel’ their whole child is being seen and their thoughts and feelings are being heard?

When reflecting on Froebel’s principle of Unity and connectedness, Tovey emphasises that ‘The early years setting should be closely connected with the life of the home, family, culture and local community. Froebel recognised and valued well-qualified early years professionals, Tovey respectfully wrote that ‘Young children are entitled to knowledge and well-qualified professionals who are deeply informed about and in tune to the distinctive nature of young children’s learning and development. Also, noting that professional relationships with children ‘should be close, trusting, responsive, interactive and intellectually engaging’. This value is also underpinned in Realising the Ambition: Being Me. This document invites practitioners to ‘reflect on their practice’ and our focus should be on ‘supporting the children in our care to form a secure and emotionally resilient attachment base which will stand them in good stead as they grow and develop’.

 

I used observation as my main method as it gave me, the researcher a first-hand insight into a child’s behaviour, interaction and development. To support this method, I used our trusted floor book. This is a familiar practice, and our children are used to this method. Writing each child’s own words adds value and authenticity to my research, giving a real insight into their thoughts and feelings. Ensuring all participants were included, I acknowledged their expressions and interests. I also encouraged mark-making contributions and photos. This approach fosters their sense of autonomy and belonging within our nurturing environment.  During a discussion about ‘ What does my nursery mean to me?’ one of our participants confidently explained to me that she knew that this was her nursery because her name was on the wall. Another child said “I don’t know. My mum just brought me here.” Taking the time to have these valuable conversations between staff and children helps to deepen our connections.

I used the Leuven scale to assess each child’s level of well-being and engagement.  I felt this was a fair and consistent approach. I used our play spaces, provision and resources as my main tool to ensure responsiveness from staff, inclusion,  and involvement.

I choose to involve the parents through a questionnaire. For me, the benefit was I could make a bespoke questionnaire which was relevant to my research and it collected my data efficiently. All eight parents supported this inquiry by taking the time to complete my form. My colleagues and I will also share their observations and progress in their seesaw account to share with parents.

Ethics

For this project, I looked at our new starts that all started between August and December as we had no planned intake for January. We had a group of eight ante preschoolers, four boys and four girls.

At this age, children may not fully comprehend the concept of confidentiality making them more vulnerable. As this project is looking at health and wellbeing, special care and consideration needed to be applied to make sure each child felt included in a way that wasn’t stressful or upsetting. I used the information gathered in their personal plans as a basis for points to consider. For example, one child is nonverbal, one has delayed speech and two have English as a second language.

Well-being sits at the heart of ‘Getting it right for every child’ (GIRFEC), principles and values. I had to consider child-friendly language which is appropriate for our young learners. Using the well-being indicators and SHANARRI resources will empower our children to have an understanding at a young age of what their well-being means to them and others. This ties in nicely with The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 3. All adults should do what is best for you.

For our Parents, this consent is crucial and solely for research purposes. I explained the obligations, rules and rights of the consent form.  I gave them time to think over our conversation and after reflection, ask any additional questions they may have. I reassured them that the identity of their child will remain anonymous and any personal data will remain confidential.

Children should be seen as ‘essential members of humanity’ and respected as ‘living, loving, and perceptive’ people. Each child should be respected for ‘who he is, what he has and what he will become’. (Froebel, in Lilley 1967:95)

Findings

I used the Leuven Scale for a more in-depth observation of each of the children. Using the Leuven Scale encourages me, as the practitioner, to look closer at the child’s level of emotional well-being and their level of engagement. When the observation was finished, I began to look at the inference, summary and reflection parts and I  found this valuable.  The focus question of ‘What is important to me from this observation?’ allowed me to support the child more individually. As a staff team, we can offer a change in provision, routine or resource to ensure a child’s feeling of belonging.

One of our children initially had difficulty parting from her mum. Through the Leuven Scale observation, I noticed that after she made a picture, ‘For Mama’, she never put her finished work away in the space we had allocated, instead she folded it small and put it into her bag to keep it safe. The Leuven Scale showed that her engagement level was high but her emotional well-being level was moderate. One of the important parts of this observation was that we needed to find a way to value her work. This was a challenge but I managed to find a wooden unit that we affectionately call ‘The Dookets’. This unit has a small but special place for each child to call their own and store their work. These dookets also come with a respectful boundary; you can only use your dooket and you can’t remove anything from someone’s dooket without asking. This responsive provision shows our learners that we respect their efforts and value their work. All of our children have gained from this provision, especially our children who bring transitional objects.

Another Leuven Scale observation highlighted a child’s emotions through his actions and body language.  Being responsive, I identified that he would gain from a quiet area where he could go to play with resources that are of his choosing and be supported by staff if he felt insecure or overwhelmed. Our snug meets his needs.  He is now becoming more aware that he can move to this space as it is quiet, calm and comfortable. Health and Social Care Standard 5.17 says ‘My environment is secure and safe.’  One parent commented in the questionnaire that her son benefitted from “Having space where he felt safe.”

The benefit of slowing down and taking the time to watch and learn about the child allows me as a practitioner to identify any potential challenges or needs early on. By being proactive and supportive I can help ensure a smooth transition from home to nursery.

 

Conclusion

This research project has allowed me to look much deeper into my role as a practitioner when building relationships with children and their families. All eight parents completed the questionnaire. All said their child was welcomed into nursery and all could tell us something we were doing well. This is positive feedback for all staff.

The benefits of my Froebelian training and approach have been vital in developing a ‘Sense of Belonging’ for our young learners. Our responsive interactions and provision when using the Leuven scale will become a practice that we aim to sustain. I aim to use this research project and data to support our nursery transitions in the future. Also, I plan to continue to regularly use the Leuven Scale method with this group, so we can see the progression and depth of their learning throughout their ante pre-school year. As a team, we aim to use the Leuven scale with all our new starts. Although this is ambitious, we feel it offers a greater level of support, especially to the children who are finding it more difficult than others.

All eight children have settled in their way, benefitting from nurturing and supportive adults. As we know, no two children are the same and this group demonstrated that beautifully. There are similarities between them, as in three of them bring similar transitional toys but they have shown us that they are growing and developing at their own pace.

Froebel saw children as active, curious, creative learners who learn best through activity, play talk and reflection and I couldn’t agree more. Children thrive when they feel emotionally secure and through observations, these children demonstrate that no matter what stage they are in, they are developing a sense of belonging. The child who once told me “I don’t know. My mum just brought me here”, can now describe his feeling of belonging by saying “This is my nursery cause my friends are here. I’ve got lots of friends. My nursery has the best sand pit and I play in it all the time.”

Even though not all of our staff team have completed the Froebel training, incorporating Froebel’s principles and sharing his method has taught us the value of deeper connections with each other and our surroundings. The positive feedback from parents and these examples show that as a team, we work together to support our children to nurture a sense of belonging by creating a warm and welcoming environment which empowers each child to flourish their unique identity and value their contributions.

Throughout this research project, our play spaces and resources have offered a nurturing, homely, stimulating, environment where we promote inclusion, wellbeing and involvement. I would research the benefits of ‘getting this right’ next.

 

Research implications

To be completed

Practitioner enquiry

To be completed

Leadership learning

To be completed

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Poppy Richards
    Poppy Richards
    23 Mar 2024 at 9:26 am

    Wonderful subject matter, really interesting to focus on ‘settling in’ a phrase we use a lot but rarely stop to slowly examine what this fully means. I love how you have picked apart the aspects of this and shown how your setting links this to the childrens rights and adapts to the needs of the child- very inspiring !


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  2. Sharon Muir
    Sharon Muir
    26 Mar 2024 at 1:42 pm

    Such an important Enquiry, creating an environment where children, families and staff develop and feel a real sense of connection and inclusion. Recognising the child’s sense of belonging as this lays the foundation for overall well being and development.


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