Every child needs to feel like they belong

How to develop a sense of belonging in your classroom so that everyone thrives

Our book study on Challenging Behaviors in Preschool is coming to a close so for my final post, I want to talk about belonging.  After all, no matter what challenging behaviors we may face in our classrooms, it is important to remember that every child in the classroom needs to feel like he or she belongs…

Why a Sense of Belonging is Important

“Two of the big tasks in preschool are to help children make friends and become a part of the classroom community” (Bilmes, Ch.3, pp. 57).

You might be wondering what ‘belonging’ has to do with challenging behaviors. The answer is fairly simple. In order for young children to feel confident, happy, comfortable, and at ease with themselves and others, including the teacher, they need to first feel like the classroom environment is a place where they are invited, accepted, loved, and “a part of the group, not a part from the group” (Bilmes, Ch.3, pp. 57).

Children who feel a part of the classroom community will be better able to focus on building healthy relationships and having a happy experience. That ‘sense of belonging’ is so important to the success of a young child in the preschool classroom that an entire chapter was dedicated to the word “Belonging” in the book titled “Beyond Behavior Management : The Six Life Skills Children Need – second edition” by Jenna Bilmes…

Promoting Family Engagement

“Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the children in our care have rich lives outside of our four walls (Bilmes, Ch.3, pp. 59).

Bilmes provides lots of ways to help young children develop that sense of belonging. I won’t try to cover them all in this post but I will highlight several that stand out to me. One of the first considerations is to remember that young children come from all different kinds of families and backgrounds. Part of fostering that sense of belonging is to welcome not only the child into the classroom, but for young children, they need to know that you welcome the entire family…

Getting to know the child means also learning about the child’s family, being sensitive to the child’s culture and traditions, and having an awareness of the child’s experiences at home. When young children enter your classroom, they are leaving the familiarity of their home and family. Anything you can do to bring the familiarity of their home and family into the classroom will help the child feel more comfortable in your classroom. Adding photos of the child’s family on the wall, talking to the child about the things he or she does at home, and even inviting parents to come and read or talk with the children will go a long ways towards helping the child feel more connected to your classroom environment…

Role of the Teacher

“We focus so much on helping young children develop independence that we sometimes forget about interdependence” (Bilmes, Ch.3, pp.68).

In order to build a sense of belonging, young children need to be in the process of developing their skills to work with others, play cooperatively, help others, have a sense of empathy, and be a part of a team. It is important to note that these skills are not automatic, they are skills that are developed over time through healthy routines and consistent expectations you set in the classroom. Providing routines can help young children understand what to do so that they can focus on how to do it with others. Routines such as classroom jobs, morning meetings, and keeping a predictable schedule can help young children feel more confident and be more competent as a member of your classroom community…

Fostering Meaningful Friendships

“It is as much the teacher’s responsibility to facilitate children’s friendships and belonging to the group as it is to teach them colors or numbers”
(Bilmes, Ch.3, pp. 78).

For any child to truly feel like they belong, they need to have friends in the classroom. This isn’t always as easy as it seems and part of the reason is that young children come to the classroom with all different skill levels of play. In addition, some children may still prefer to play alone while others enjoy playing with just one friend or a large group of friends. But no matter the skill level or the preference in playing with others, make no mistake, every child needs to feel like they have a friend and every child needs to feel like they are liked by you, as their teacher, and by the other children in the classroom…

When it comes to friends, it is also important to note the difference between “being friends” and having “friendly behavior.” Bilmes explains, “When you enforce friendly behavior rather than artificial friendships, children develop skills that will last them for life” (Ch.3, pp.80).  To promote friendly behavior, you can comment on the behavior such as “You two are doing a great job putting all those blocks in the basket together” or “Thank you for making room for each other at the table.”

Reflections on the Book

There are many things to think about when it comes to helping young children build friendships so I want to encourage you to continue researching the topic of friendship and not just assume that friendship in the classroom is just a given. It takes your support as well as your understanding of child development.  As my students head back to school this fall, I hope I will be able to write more on the topic of friendships. Since reading this book, there are lots of tips that I have enjoyed reading for my own teaching practice.

If you haven’t had a chance to read each of the Challenging Behavior posts shared by my fellow bloggers, be sure to stop by PreKinders and you will see a list of each post by title along with a link to read each of those posts.

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Deborah J Stewart

Deborah J Stewart

Every time I think I know everything I need to know about teaching young children, God says, "Hold on a minute!" and gives me a new challenge.

Let me tell ya...

With each new challenge that you overcome, you will find yourself better equipped and more passionate about teaching young children.

God didn't call wimps to lead, teach, or care for His children. Nope, he has high expectations, so get ready. You will have to give your very best but after teaching for over 30 years, I can tell you that it is a wonderful and rewarding journey.

Whenever your calling feels hard, just remember, 'He who began a good work in you (and in the children you serve) will be faithful to complete it.'

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