When children feel that they belong, the effect is powerful.
Children who feel valued and included develop confidence and a strong sense of self. In turn, they’re better equipped to show kindness and compassion to others, including those who are different from themselves.
That’s why Primrose Schools puts belongingness at the center of the Balanced Learning® curriculum. Fostering a sense of belongingness means creating and maintaining an environment where everyone feels included and where similarities and differences are nurtured and respected.
“We want children to feel: I am important and valuable and I belong, and other children who are different from me in many ways are equally important and equally belong,” says Dr. Maria Shaheen, senior director of early childhood education for Primrose Schools®.
In Primrose schools across the country, this idea of belongingness comes to life in a number of ways every day and all year long. This includes the curriculum, the classroom experience and learning about the different cultures of the families in our school community.
Curriculum – Alike and Different
Each September, Primrose school teachers kick off the school year with a monthlong exploration of Alike and Different.
While previous generations may have been told to ignore differences in race, body type or ability, today’s childhood development experts generally agree that noting differences is healthy—it’s assigning negativity to those differences that leads to prejudice.
That’s why Primrose schools teach children that we are all people; people come in various shapes, sizes, colors and personalities; and we’re all special for who we are.
Of course, that’s a big idea for little ones, so the curriculum makes it simpler. To start, students are encouraged to note what makes them different and the same. That might sound like:
Alicia has black hair and Quinn has red hair, but they both love ponytails!
Tommy has peach skin and freckles, and Arjun has brown skin and no freckles, but they both get goosebumps when they feel a cool breeze.
“Children do see differences between people, such as skin tone,” Shaheen says. “We don’t want children to think they can’t talk about it.
Around age three, children become more aware that not everyone experiences the world the way they do. That makes this a crucial time to lay the groundwork for respectful curiosity, openness and empathy.
The Classroom Experience
In the first five years of life, children are forming their self-identity, which makes it important that they see themselves reflected in the world around them. In Primrose classrooms, this means having a variety of books, dolls and materials that show different skin colors, hair, clothing and body types.
According to Shaheen, “This helps children derive a sense of self-concept, feel personal pride, and also begin to conceive of a global community.”
Primrose school teachers read stories that celebrate multiculturalism, such as “We Are Alike, We Are Different,” by Janice Behrens, which compares faces, clothes, food and words from around the world, and “Mixed Me!” by Taye Diggs, about being a biracial child. The Harmony & Heart® music program includes songs from many cultures, including “Usagi Usagi” (Japan), “Dipidu” (Uganda) and “Aiken Drum” (Scotland).
Our Community of Families
Of course, Primrose students don’t need to rely on books and songs to experience different cultures; they already come from a variety of family backgrounds and have various traditions.
At the beginning of the year, families fill out a questionnaire about their culture and are invited to share that experience in the classroom. This could be a child from a family of Puerto Rican descent showing off the country’s flag or a child whose family loves to camp explaining what it’s like to sleep in the woods.
The important part is that children get to share what is meaningful to them and their families. This creates a sense of belongingness that helps the child feel emotionally and socially safe.
After all, when you belong, you can welcome others, too.