Early years community corner: Identity and belonging in early childhood

Rachel Stevens
Thursday, January 18, 2024

During the early childhood, from birth until a child is six years old, it's important that children develop a positive sense of who they are. This helps them feel they are valued and respected as part of a family and community. The rise of interest in ‘belonging’ and it's importance to healthy early childhood development, is clear.

During the early childhood, from birth until a child is six years old, it's important that children develop a positive sense of who they are. This helps them feel they are valued and respected as part of a family and community. The rise of interest in ‘belonging’ and it's importance to healthy early childhood development, is clear. Sector leaders, charities and educators are determined to put children's emotional wellbeing at the top of the agenda, and the interest shown across a variety of social media channels demonstrates that parents and the public share this interest in children's wellbeing.

On TikTok, for example, our own nursery features on the @brighthorizons_uk channel, as we share our story about how we use self-registration dolls in our preschool room. It's a simple concept to help support children build up a sense of belonging. After designing a doll that represents themselves, the children place their dolls in one of three wooden houses mounted on the wall. They can physically see that there's room for them; that they have a place at the nursery. They are also given a choice of which size house they place their doll in (small, medium or large). Children will often choose to place their doll next to their friends or their favourite practitioners. This is especially beneficial for shy or non-verbal children who may struggle to communicate their needs or wishes.

We're not the only voice on social media tackling the subject of early years ‘belonging’. Melanie Fisher, Peripatetic Early Childhood Advisor at Bright Horizons, shared a post on LinkedIn that showcased an article by Deborah McNelis M.Ed titled What Children Really Need Is Adults That Understand Development. Melanie said: “Early childhood experiences set a child up for life. Supporting infant mental health (brain development) and meeting their wellbeing needs is investment in their future outcomes.”

Dr. Sandra Duncan, an International early childhood environment specialist, presented the ‘Honeycomb hypothesis’ framework and demonstrated to educators the importance of intentionally designed play spaces, so children can have opportunities to use the environment to choose who they play with, and where they play. This puts the children ‘in control’ and reduces the likelihood of them displaying challenging behaviours, as they learn to build relationships and express their ideas through play and purposeful interactions.

#PlaceMatters was the theme that the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University used to highlight how the building blocks of mental health are laid in early childhood. The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood reshared this information, taking steps to support families who are raising young children – by increasing access to safe green spaces, nutritious foods, and health care professionals.

Finally, on Instagram it was #ClaimYourSpace by Solace Women's Aid that caught my eye. Their post showed the importance of creating safe spaces for vulnerable children. Tina, a Solace Ambassador, asked, “How do you use your voice for yourself or other women and girls?” Solace Women's Aid are supported by our charity, the Bright Horizons Foundation for Children. The Bright Horizons Foundation creates Bright Spaces, which are designed to help vulnerable children recover from trauma, build positive relationships, have fun, learn and relax through play.



Rachel Stevens

Nursery Manager at Hinxton Crocus Early Years Centre

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