Description of the frame

This frame encompasses children's learning and development with respect to:

  • their sense of connectedness to others;
  • their relationships with others, and their contributions as part of a group, a community, and the natural world;
  • their understanding of relationships and community, and of the ways in which people contribute to the world around them.

The learning encompassed in this frame also relates to the child's early development of the attributes and attitudes that inform citizenship, through his or her sense of personal connectedness to various communities.

For a wide range of practical examples of how children and educators interact to make thinking and learning about belonging and contributing visible, in connection with related overall and specific expectations in the Kindergarten program, see the expectation charts for this frame in Chapter 4.3.

Belonging and contributing: What are we learning from research?

What we're learning is that social interaction – the building of the brain through relationships - is an absolutely crucial, essential part of healthy development. Relationships are nutrients for the brain. (Clinton, 2013b, video transcript, opening statement)

The personal, social, and emotional development of young children lays the social and cognitive groundwork that fosters a love for school, engages children in the process of learning, and supports their future success in school and in life. Early learning programs focus on helping children discover who they are and encourage and support children in reaching their full potential. Relationships are fundamental to children's personal, social, and emotional development – to the development of a positive sense of self and self-confidence – and relationships within the classroom community provide a critical early environment for that development (Bowlby, 1988; Birch & Ladd, 1997; Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Bilmes, 2012; Shanker, 2013b). Educators who are aware of the importance of these relationships adopt a style, in their interactions with children, that builds connections (Clinton, 2013a, p. 4).

In partnership with the home, the school plays a vital role in developing children's social competence and well-being, providing the foundational tools and knowledge needed for them to play a constructive and contributing role as citizens in the future.

Children enter early learning programs with a diverse range of strengths and experiences. The rate at which individual children adapt to the school environment varies, and educators, in their relationships with the children and their families, play an essential role in facilitating each child's unique transition. Educators and family members also collaborate with other significant partners, such as school and community resource teams, to ensure the best possible transition to the school environment for every child. With this support, and through connection-building interactions with educators, children develop meaningful relationships that help foster a positive sense of self and a sense of belonging and contributing.

The deepest language of all … is the language of relationships. It goes much deeper than more easily measured skills like logical thinking and problem solving. Learning is about making relationships, and this is the language that enables us to absorb information and process it at a deep level. (Fraser, 2012, p. 304)

Read: Dr. Jean M. Clinton, “The Power of Positive Adult Child Relationships: Connection Is the Key,” in Think, Feel, Act: Lessons from Research about Young Children (2013)

View: Video “Quality of Interactions

Emotional development through relationships

Developing a sense of belonging and contributing through relationships is tied closely to children's emotional development and ability to self-regulate (see Chapter 2.2, “Thinking about Self-Regulation and Well-Being”). Educators nurture children's emotional development – their development of a sense of identity, positive self-concept, self-reliance, and ability to self-regulate – by creating a warm and responsive environment that contributes to children's ability to experience success.

Through a variety of experiences in which they are supported in demonstrating their competence, children further develop the capacity to understand their own emotions and to express them with consideration and respect for others, to delay gratification, and to adapt their responses. They recognize their uniqueness and their ability to make significant contributions. As they develop self-confidence, children become more receptive to relating to others and take pleasure in learning new skills. Children need regular opportunities throughout the day to learn and value the interpersonal skills required to communicate and cooperate with others.

A young child's environment of relationships plays an important role in the development of executive capacities [self-regulation]. Environments that foster executive functioning are characterized by adult-child relationships (both within and outside the home) that guide children from complete dependence on adult support to gradual assumption of the “executive” role for themselves. (Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, 2011, p. 6)

Educators support children's development of emotional maturity and social competence in various ways – for example, by documenting the children's strategies for navigating social situations, by modelling problem solving and alternative ways of managing conflict, and by affirming positive choices. They provide the scaffolding that individual children need as they learn to self-regulate, with the understanding that children's ability to regulate emotions varies from individual to individual – for example, that there are differences in children's emotional reaction times and in the duration and intensity of their emotional responses.

The educators should use their understanding of self-regulation to become attuned to individual differences in children. When educators pay attention to differences in individual children's ability to manage incoming sensory stimulation and challenges, for example, they are better able to establish nurturing relationships with the children. Similarly, educators should be attuned to cultural differences in the expression of emotion. At home, children learn when to express emotions, and how – for example, through gestures or facial expressions, by making eye contact or avoiding it. By being attuned and responsive to these differences, educators are better able to support the children's development of a positive sense of self, and to help strengthen their capacity for developing relationships and for learning.

[P]ositive emotions create energy. Positive emotions create … resources for dealing with stressors. So the more the child is experiencing a positive emotion, the greater the reserves, the greater the resources for tackling … challenge[s]. (Dr. Stuart Shanker, transcript from the video clip “What strategies and practices
 are educator teams repeating, rethinking, and removing to support
 children's self-regulation? What does self-regulation look like and sound like?”)

Laying the foundations for citizenship and environmental stewardship

As children's sense of belonging and contributing develops, they begin to experience their role in relation to both community and place.

Throughout their learning in Kindergarten and beyond, children are given opportunities to learn about what it means to be a responsible, active citizen in the community of the classroom and the diverse communities to which they belong within and outside the school. It is important for children to understand that they belong to many communities and that, ultimately, they are all citizens of the global community.

Hand in hand with their experience of positive, caring, and respectful relationships, children develop an awareness of their connection to the world around them. When children have opportunities to make and maintain connections to others and to the world in which they live, they also develop a sense of place, which has a profound influence on their developing sense of identity. Sense of place refers to the human experience in a landscape and grows from identifying oneself in relation to a particular piece of land on the surface of planet Earth (The Sense of Place, 2015). Belonging and contributing to the social and cultural world they share with others becomes intertwined with a sense of belonging and contributing to their environment.

Children's developing sense of place, combined with their awareness of caring for the environment, is sometimes referred to as “ecological identity”:

An ecological identity allows us to experience the earth as our home ground, and leaves us determined to live in honorable relationship with our planet. (Pelo, 2009, p. 1)

The Kindergarten program provides numerous opportunities for educators to support children in developing an awareness of their relationships with the local environment, and of how those relationships can be mutually supportive (see “Learning in the Outdoors” in Chapter 1.3, “The Learning Environment”). It is important for educators to:

  • ensure that children have extended interactions with the natural world;
  • engage children in endeavours designed to appropriately enhance or restore land and place (e.g., establish and maintain a native species garden);
  • support children's inquiries involving natural materials and promote their use of various resources to further learning about the natural world.

Developing a sense of place and an awareness of our role and responsibility in caring for the planet and understanding our impact on the places where we live, work, and play are consistent with the following fundamental principles of Indigenous education:

  1. Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors.
  2. Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place).
  3. Learning involves recognizing the consequences of one's actions.
(First Nations Education Steering Committee, n.d.)

Educators who bring Indigenous peoples' environmental traditions into the classroom as contemporary ways of connecting with place, rather than as something from the past, enable children to develop relationships with the natural world that can enhance their sense of belonging and contributing.

Supporting children's sense of belonging and contributing through collaboration, empathy, and inclusiveness

The Kindergarten classroom is an environment in which children are affirmed as individuals and as members of a diverse community of learners. The learning and teaching program provides opportunities for children to express their ideas, discover their strengths and the unique contributions that they make, collaborate with others, and develop relationships. Educators observe the children throughout the day to determine how best to adjust the learning environment, contexts for learning, and pedagogical strategies to meet the particular needs of each child and to support children's learning through relationships.

Educator team reflection

When you come into our classroom community, you'll witness a shift in who is doing the talking. More children are communicating their ideas, opinions, and questions to each other, throughout the day. You will see us documenting the children's verbal and non-verbal communication through audio and video recordings, so that the children can revisit their conversations and think about what they want to do next. You will see them beginning to notice who they are, and getting to know each other better.

Children's sense of belonging and contributing grows as they:

  • interact with others in many contexts and for many purposes;
  • learn about themselves and their culture;
  • develop the ability to empathize and get along with other living things;
  • begin to understand that all people share similar needs, feelings, and aspirations;
  • make decisions collaboratively and develop a sense of community;
  • develop the ability to work and learn with others;
  • develop an appreciation of the ways in which they can make contributions to groups and to group well-being;
  • develop the self-confidence to stand up for themselves and others when they encounter biased ideas and discrimination;
  • engage in learning opportunities that increase their awareness of others and foster respect for individual differences;
  • develop an appreciation of diversity and an understanding of the concepts of equity, equality, fairness, tolerance, respect, and justice.

Understanding how social and cultural factors influence learning enables educators to support children from diverse backgrounds in developing their competence. The educators include learning opportunities that reflect the children's diverse backgrounds – for example, they introduce stories, poems, songs, dances, and games that reflect the children's backgrounds, and they have the children bring items from home into the classroom. They also make sure that children have opportunities to express or demonstrate their curiosity, their ideas and interests, and their accomplishments in various different ways.

Educator team reflection

We realized that our understanding of “begin with the interests of the children” had been limited to the questions that the children were asking. We began to listen more closely to everything the children had to say – including, for example, about what was happening at home and within their cultural community. This provided us with opportunities to explore the songs, stories, clothing, food, and celebrations that the children were excited about. We began to notice and name children's learning about diversity and inclusion and about celebrating our differences.

Developing a sense of belonging and contributing through the arts

In the Kindergarten program, the arts provide a vehicle through which children can express their growing sense of self and their interpretations of the world. The arts transcend any single subject or discipline. Visual arts, dance, music, and socio-dramatic play contribute in many ways to the development of children's thinking and communication skills while enabling them to explore who they are and to experience the unique contributions that they make.

Providing children with opportunities to express themselves through the arts:

  • develops decision-making skills;
  • stimulates memory;
  • facilitates understanding;
  • develops skills in symbolic communication;
  • promotes sensory development;
  • encourages creative thinking;
  • stimulates and develops the imagination;
  • fosters empathy;
  • promotes the development of relationships;
  • builds identity, self-esteem, and a sense of accomplishment;
  • supports self-regulation;
  • promotes a sense of wonderment;
  • fosters understanding of various cultures as well as of ways to express and explore their own culture;
  • supports the development of literacy and mathematics.
To watch a child completely engaged in an arts experience is to recognize that the brain is on, driven by the aesthetic and emotional imperative to make meaning, to say something, to represent what matters. (Booth & Hachiya, 2004, p. 1)
Creativity does not occur in a vacuum. Art making is a process requiring both creativity and skill, and it can be cultivated by establishing conditions that encourage and promote its development. Teachers need to be aware that the atmosphere they create for learning affects the nature of the learning itself. A setting that is conducive to creativity is one in which students are not afraid to suggest alternative ideas and take risks. (The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1–8: The Arts [2009], p. 19)

All areas of the arts are of equal importance for children's cognitive, social, and emotional development. Children need ready access to a wide variety of materials, resources, and experiences that offer different ways for them to demonstrate their thinking and learning. The creative process is the focus of the arts. Children's thinking is revealed when they negotiate where, why, and how materials are arranged and organized and when they try out new theories and ideas. Children need time and opportunities to revisit materials and experiences in order to consolidate or further their learning. Carefully planned experiences and organization of materials in the learning environment enable children to explore visual arts, music, drama, and dance throughout the day. Various learning contexts should be available where children can apply and extend their learning, both in the classroom and outdoors – including in the dramatic play area, the art studio, the school grounds, the blocks, and areas in which sand or clay can be used.

It is important for young children to see themselves as artists, sculptors, musicians, dancers, and actors. When arts experiences are embedded in meaningful contexts, children become deeply involved in the artistic process. Generic art activities – for example, having children work with pre-cut shapes – should be avoided: they are rarely effective because their focus is narrow and they provide only limited assessment information about the child's level of understanding. Children need time to imagine, create, and explore in a non-threatening environment where they know that their individual choices and responses are respected and valued.

Educator team reflection

We had been thinking about Dr. Jean Clinton's C:D:C ratio in our practice. What were we spending more time on in our interactions with the children – correcting, directing, or connecting? We began to realize that when we gave the children generic crafts to do – the kind where everyone makes the same thing from pre-cut shapes – all of our interactions were directions about what to do and corrections to do the task properly. There was very little opportunity to make a meaningful connection when the children were engaged in these crafts! We began to offer various art materials – materials that weren't geared to a specific product – and we were amazed at the number of opportunities that opened up for us to make meaningful connections with the children. We discovered more about individual children, their interests and schema and so much more, as we asked open-ended questions and really listened to their responses.

Dramatic play enables children to explore personal narratives and experiences. Educators provide various opportunities and contexts for children to play out their narratives, such as the following:

  • a fishing trip
  • riding on the elevators in their building
  • presenting an innovation on a television show
  • an imaginary or lived trip on a bus, sled, train, or airplane
  • an outdoor experience
  • a car chase scene
  • an imaginary castle scene

Children who may be experiencing stress or trauma can express their emotions and thoughts through drawing and dramatizing.footnote 1 Providing children with varied opportunities to express themselves through the arts also supports and facilitates their diverse learning styles, interests, and abilities. It promotes the development of self, builds a sense of belonging and contributing, and furthers growth in all areas of learning.

Questions for reflection: Belonging and contributing

  • In what ways are we integrating social and emotional learning in our program? Are we able to observe children's social and emotional growth in learning, and to review our documentation of it with the children?
  • What strategies do we use to ensure that there is time in the day to interact with both individual children and small groups of children in their play?
  • How do we create opportunities for children to interact with each other, with older students, and with other adults? Have we planned for such interactions to take place in a range of different contexts, to provide children with a variety of experiences?
  • Are the children involved in resolving problems and conflicts? If not, why not?
  • In what ways does our learning environment support and enhance our relationships with the children and also with their families?
  • How does our program help children develop a sense of place and a relationship with the natural world?
  • How do we communicate our expectations to the children in a way that is more “connective” and less “directive”?


  • footnote[1] Back to paragraph Educators need to be aware of relevant board policies and guidelines in the event that a child discloses information that may indicate abuse or neglect (e.g., the obligation to report; guidelines regarding the educator's initial response to the child).