Take a minute to think about a time you felt you truly belonged. Where were you, who else was there and what were you doing? What did you feel a part of? How did you experience that sense of belonging in your body? Can you feel any emotional response to that memory of belonging even now?
Belonging is a basic human need.
For all of us, especially young children, a sense of belonging creates security, safety, and overall well-being which then opens up space for creativity, risk-taking, learning and play.
"Belonging gives us the courage to be imperfect." - Brene Brown
How do we create belonging in the classroom and at home?
First, we create belonging through the environment. Putting materials at the child’s level for accessibility, displaying their work, including pictures of the children and family members in the decor, and creating a setting that reflects diverse language and cultural practices all contribute to an immediate feeling that this space has been designed for them.
In the classroom, routines like welcoming students and families as they arrive, encouraging children to sign themselves into class, morning meeting, circle time and special greetings also invite the child to experience the space as both theirs and belonging to the collective classroom.
Here are three of our favorite ways we use music, movement and mindfulness to create belonging:
1. Gather in a circle
In a circle, we can all see one another, everyone is on the same level (including the teachers), learning becomes collaborative and ideas are shared. Everyone is welcomed, included and has agency in creating and directing the group dynamic. As teachers, we acknowledge that we have just as much to learn from the children as we have to share with them.
Try this: Breathing Ball Name Game.
Pass the breathing ball around the circle. Each child takes a turn saying their name, how they are feeling today and then leads the group through one inhale and exhale with the breathing ball.
2. Establish language, listening, and community
Use gathering language (we, let’s, us, together, everyone, friends) to create a collective safe space. Practice listening through group singing, breathing exercises, synchronized group movement, call-and-response, rhythm and pitch exercises utilizing both instruments and movement, partner poses and group collaborations. Use fact-based observations instead of praise language (i.e., "You repeated my words!" instead of "Good job!") so children focus on the intrinsic value of their effort rather than seeking extrinsic motivation.
Try this: Call-and-response
The teacher claps a rhythm using hand or rhythm sticks. The children clap that rhythm pattern back. Start simple and then move to more complex patterns. Give each child the opportunity to be the leader.
3. Celebrate uniqueness
Every child’s experience, ideas and level of participation are valid. We pose open-ended questions and are always ready to improvise and experiment to create space for children to offer their perspective. We can highlight and celebrate that no two bodies look the same and no two voices sound the same through movement and musical exploration. When children feel seen, heard, and appreciated by their peers, they sense that they belong and also feel a responsibility to create that belonging for their classmates.
Try this: Practice tree pose using the tree rhyme.
Ask the children what kind of tree they are making and use fact-based observations to notice how their trees are all different (Ex. "I see Sophia’s tree has short branches. I see Adam’s tree is very tall.”) Encourage them to notice the differences in each tree. Have them pair up and swap, making each other’s trees.
When given the opportunity to contribute to our community in a meaningful way, we all naturally feel belonging. Both in the classroom and at home, involve children in important tasks, decision-making and problem-solving. They may astound you with the creative and successful solutions they come up with!