The Transformative Impact of Building Positive Relationships

How fundamental are positive relationships with peers and adults to a child's learning process?

Project author:

Project summary:

A qualitative study into the importance of nurturing a sense of belonging within a learning

Family sitting on a sofa


This project looks closely at enabling children to develop positive relationships within their peer group. It then goes on to reflect on the impact these can have on well-being as well as the quality of engagement in meaningful play experiences in all areas of the setting. It primarily identifies with the Froebelian principle of unity however, also incorporates Maslows Hierarchy of Needs in conjunction with GIRFEC and Building the Ambition: Being Me.

My purpose for undertaking this work was to ascertain the significance of positive peer interactions on developing a sense of belonging. Underpinned by the recent global pandemic where the importance of connections and the wider sense of community were, in some aspects, forgotten.


As a local authority Early Learning and Childcare setting this project was undertaken with children three to five years old. Our current cohort have experienced birth to three like no other; the pandemic enforcing isolation upon families during the early most formative years.
Froebel empathised the importance of creating a supportive, nurturing relationship between all of those around the child, connecting families, education and the local community, emphasising they all should practice a “close and living relationship with people’s lives” (Froebel in Lilley, 1967:168)
Our pre pandemic doors open policy and overall family learning approach had been scaled down due to restrictions. As a setting we felt a lack of partnership between practitioners and families, at the same time families were also sharing with us that moreover, they were lacking in connection to their own community, having crucially been unable to attend any locally run baby and toddler groups where they would have opportunity to socialise with peers.

Practitioners observed signs that the pandemic had widened the attainment gap. Froebel advocates beginning where the child is by focussing on what they already know and for many of our children they knew the safe home environment with strong attachment to their caregivers. Nurturing healthy relationships through daily activities aimed to enable those who struggled with how to play, as well as others with difficulties communicating with adults and peers. Additionally, there was a significant number of children taking an extended time to settle after being left by their adult at the start of each session, all of which was becoming a barrier to these children’s learning.
Through continuous observation, planning and collaboration with families we adapted our approach to meet the emerging needs of our children, aiming to provide the best nurturing learning environment and therefore potential outcomes for those involved. It was a real opportunity for us as practitioners to prioritise the children’s well being and happiness, changing the focus of our observation and planning cycle to secure long term childhood development. To ensure effectiveness the entire team worked together ensuring sensitive, responsive and consistent method. Self-reflection and continuous professional dialogue provided opportunity to be conscious of the ever-changing needs of our children.


All of our research and observations began with the similar methods we had used previously however, it became apparent throughout the enquiry that whilst we were carrying out more frequent observations the children became more engaged and developed an awareness for acknowledging their own achievements by having a desire to pin their learning to our learning
wall along with requesting iPads to share on our online learning platform. As not all of our children have online photography permission it was paramount that whilst the children were capable of uploading independently there was a practitioner having to publish the posts. When inviting parents and carers into our setting due to restrictions imposed on us, we have only been able to offer one afternoon a week. Unfortunately for parents who work on that day they have been unable to attend. This has been challenging for us and hopefully we will work towards rotating the day each month to ensure a fairer approach for those who have other commitments throughout the week.

“To the child sight of grown ups around him… is the sun which draws him out; and when he establishes other relationships within and beyond himself, these are the climatic conditions, the broad sky, under which he grows up.” (Froebel, 1830)


Through the observations carried out at the start of the project on how the children interacted throughout their day there were a significant number of children who were choosing to play alone, not seeking out social peer interactions or parallel play, playing alongside with no direct social interaction. There were also those who chose to only engage within limited areas of the setting often seeking adult interactions when doing so. In times of crisis or conflict this group of children often took prolonged periods to regulate their emotions.
One of the biggest impacts we saw was through the use of songs and circle games. An area was set up with blankets, cushions and soft lighting to create a cosy, safe enclosed space. Practitioners focused primarily on songs which include the child’s name or encouraged them to interact with each other. Whilst at the beginning the children would look at or point when gesturing to their peer, over the short space of time they picked up each other’s names and developed confidence to use them in a small group situation. These consistent interactions facilitated sensitively by practitioners then led to the children displaying changes in their wider social interactions, engaging in associative play and becoming less reliant on adults when carrying out daily routines. A small group of children have been noted to be developing a friendship, each with their own individual strengths to scaffold the confidence and success of the others in the different aspects of their day they may find challenging, enabling themselves to display their own uniqueness and capabilities. According to Maslow (1943) needs friendship and a sense of belonging is especially strong throughout childhood, meeting this psychological need can lead to one becoming capable of self-achieving.
Focusing on our family learning approach, as outlined in the Realising the Ambition Being Me document, when the children had their parent/carer in the setting they readily approached the areas they had been observed most frequently in. In conjunction with this they were also observed seeking out wider play experiences through carefully positioned provocations throughout both indoors and out. Working in partnership with families was rooted in Froebel’s principle of connectedness, the educator and community forming together around the child.

It was unequivocally apparent the effects of nurturing healthy relationships on building resilience. Our consistent approach, beginning with respecting the child’s well-being strengthens neural connections contributing to secure attachment and on the children’s overall participation in learning.


By bringing this body of evidence together it depicted the short journey we have already been on as well as the undeniable continuous work we have ahead of us. The transformative impact investing our time in a child’s sense of unity and connectedness within our setting has ultimately been an investment in their readiness to learn and their success as individuals. This enquiry has been our first step towards establishing these principles in our ethos nonetheless, to achieve our full vision we will need to continue to listen to our families and nurture the connections we have laid the foundations for within this short space of time.

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

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