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To Be Known and Cared For

Written by Julie Bisnath BSW, RSW

When I was little, I heard this once—and it resonated so deeply, this notion—this way of being in the world. This idea that everyone is worthy of and deserves to be known and cared for.

One of the most fundamental and intimate human needs is the need for connection and belonging—the feelings and experiences of being valued and of forming meaningful relationships with others. According to Maslow, in his work describing a hierarchy of human needs, belonging is an essential and prerequisite need that must be fulfilled in order for humans to achieve a meaningful sense of self-esteem and self-actualization (McLeod, S. A. 2018. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html).

Furthermore, and more specific to the field of early childhood education, Ontario’s pedagogical document How Does Learning Happen? describes belonging as a core foundation of the framework:

With various religious and cultural holidays being celebrated during this time of year, December provides an opportune time to reflect and consider how this sense of belonging is being nurtured within your home childcare environment—not only during the holiday season but throughout the year too. Below you’ll find some questions to contemplate.

  • Do the children in your care feel connected to you and to one another? Are they excited to share the important details of their lives? Do they seek and offer comfort from other members of the group (you and/or the other children)? How does each child contribute meaningfully to the group?
  • Do your childcare families feel connected to you and to one another? How is this exemplified? Are there opportunities for children and families to make connections between home and childcare? What do you know about each family’s holiday celebrations (or lack thereof)? What are their expectations? What are your expectations? How are these communicated?
  • How do you consider varying beliefs? Maybe you and your families all celebrate the same annual holidays.  Maybe they celebrate the same holidays but in very different ways. Maybe one or more families celebrate different holidays or no holidays at all. Are there religious or cultural components? How do you know? How do you invite families to share this information? How do you learn about other holidays and celebrations?
  • Shared experiences can be a wonderful way to anchor the group and provide a sense of belonging.  Are children and families invited to share special traditions? How can you encourage meaningful connection? Which of your own special traditions do you like to share with the children and their families? How do you do this?
  • How do you embrace and respect cultural diversity? How is this modeled with the children and their families?

 

Understanding the needs of your children is also key. Perhaps you choose to not emphasize any holidays or celebrations. This time of year can be particularly overwhelming and over-stimulating for many young children. Providing a predictable and calm environment might be exactly right for the children in your care.  You can respectfully acknowledge holidays and celebrations without holiday themed art, crafts, stories, food, music, outings, etc. Letting the children talk about what’s happening at home—how and what they are celebrating, and being prepared to help the other children understand and make meaning of the fact that different families celebrate differently, is in itself nurturing a sense of belonging.

Collaborating with families as you consider how and what to celebrate with the children will build trust and confidence. Invite them to share ideas and work together to decide how best to meet the needs of the group.

Reflective practice, authentic communication, and a genuine willingness to learn about new or different holidays or traditions will create an environment where the children, and their families, feel welcome and are encouraged to be themselves. This, in turn, nurtures caring relationships and fosters feelings of belonging and being valued—of being known and cared for.