By Amanda Armitage

Change – it is an inevitable part of life, whether we love or dislike it.

Last week my son finished primary School. The lead up was full of emotion. He was excited about the school celebrations, party days and graduation ceremony. On the way to dropping him off for his last day of school he asked me how he should be feeling. His question surprised me.

As I drove off, with a little tear in my eye, I considered the many conversations I have had with Preschool children over the years about their journey to “Big School.” I reflected on how much trust they have in their educators. How they absorb our words about classrooms, uniforms, bags, school hats, school activities and the new friends they will make. How have they developed a sense of belonging in our service that leads to this level of trust?

I am sure you have had similar conversations in recent weeks with the children you work with. Think back to when they first began in your care. What was it that allowed them to develop this sense of trust? What steps can you take to ensure any new or returning children develop this same sense of belonging?

The EYLF states that “Relationships are crucial to a sense of belonging. Belonging is central to being and becoming in that it shapes who children are and who they become.”

Here are some things to consider:

  • Encourage a structured orientation process. Ask questions during the visit; observe their interactions with the family. What does the adult do to settle them if they are frustrated or upset? Does the child show interest in a particular part of the room or activity? Are there any cultural or key words you should learn?
  • Do they have a comfort toy or item? If so, encourage the family to send this with the child when they start care. It is important to allow the child to bring something familiar in to the centre.
  • Allocate a primary carer. This will be the educator who comes to know the child and family the most. Establishing relationships take time, there will be good and not so good days.
  • Develop an arrival routine. If families can enter encourage the carer to participate in an activity before leaving the child. Dont rush the child or parent. However, this may look different if families cannot enter your centre due to COVID restrictions. Consider arranging the roster so the same educator receives the child at the front door each day. How can the arrival routine foster a sense of belonging? It may be simple things such as putting on suncream, putting their bag away, waving through the window and then taking the child to an activity so they aren’t left standing unsure what to do next.
  • Meal times can be a time of upset for some children. Do they eat puree, soft foods or are they an independent eater? Consider food allergies – ask what foods they have at home, and check what diet preferences there are. Are there cultural practices around eating such as using their hands, using chopsticks or cultural foods? If a child is reluctant to eat at the centre ask what / how they eat at home.
  • Consider sleep practices. Are they swaddled, rocked, do they have a dummy, when do they have a bottle? Is the child left to self-settle or are they patted? Always remember to adhere to SIDS guidelines.
  • No child should be forced to sleep or lay on a bed for a period. Consider leaving out quiet activities to participate in for those that don’t sleep, respect the child’s preferences and match the home sleep routine for infants and toddlers.
  • Have a daily routine in pictures so the children can predict what happens next. That way the child has something visual to relate to rather than “mum will come back soon.”
  • Show them where the toilets, water bottles, tissues or other items are and let them know they can access these when they need.
  • Display photos and artwork in a respectful way from day one. This helps the child to see that they are valued within the service and foster a sense of belonging.
  • Talk to the children and involve them in the daily evaluation and planning process. Ask what they would like to participate in. Show them you trust them to make decisions.
  • Consider the family, ask how they are coping as this is a huge change for them as well. It wasn’t until I left my son in someone else’s care that I realised what a huge sense of trust and how much emotion goes into walking away from your child. I had told families for many years before having my son “it’s ok if they cry when you leave, they will settle soon.” I cried for most of the first week when I returned from maternity leave and had to leave him in care, my son was fine!

As a team, reflect on what you can do to develop trust and attachment with the children you work with. There will be many children that embrace change and settle from day one as they enter your care, and yet there will be others that take time. Respect that some children will respond to some educators over others. Share the work load, support each other and most of all work as a team.

Be patient, consider how you feel going into a new environment and what things help you. Settling new children into care can be challenging or exhausting, but take your time. Celebrate the achievements the child, and parent makes. Too soon those children will be the ones we send off to school ready for their next adventure.