How to Build Relationships in the Play Environment

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Strong relationships are key to a child’s development, and their ability to thrive at nursery.

When little ones feel safe and develop a trusting relationship with staff, it can make it easier for the children to be dropped off and parents to leave, happy that their child is settled.

But good connections with nursery staff can also set children up with life skills that will last a lifetime.

Building positive relationships in early childhood

A child needs secure relationships with those around them to thrive and develop healthy connections that help them to learn.

Positive relationships help a child to understand emotions, such as empathy, compassion, and belonging. This could come from family members, but it’s also vital to have these relationships within a nursery setting too.

Childcare workers can have a huge impact on a child’s emotional development and encourage a community of caring young children who can identify with others.

Just as a child develops a bond with a key person at home, they may also become close to a specific person in the nursery who they feel safe with. As children learn from those around them, they can develop lifelong social skills from this individual, and the team as a collective.

How to start building relationships

Paying special attention to children as they’re playing or taking part in activities can help you to build relationships with the little ones in your care. Although this can be difficult in a bigger group, giving each individual some attention can help them to feel valued and understood.

The learning environment should be set up in such a way that adults are able to interact with the children easily to forge healthy relationships.

Encouraging children to express their emotions is also an important part of building relationships. If a child feels secure and able to open up to those around them, they can direct their anger or sadness into more positive forms of expression, such as talking things through or getting creative to express how they’re feeling.

Children’s learning can also be enhanced by supportive relationships; they can feel confident enough to get involved in different activities and interact with other children when they know they have a caring adult present.

Toddlers building relationships with peers

It’s also important for children in the nursery to build a friendship with their peers, particularly during the early years when they are starting to explore the world around them. Having special people to call friends can help children come out of their shells and improve their happiness at nursery.

In a recent study , 92% of childcare practitioners agreed or strongly agreed that children’s well being is dependent on close relationships and friendships. Helping classmates to work together in collaborative activities and encouraging teamwork can build positive relationships between peers.

They can also pick up skills like sharing and learning compassion for their classmates, creating a happier environment for the children to thrive.

Why play is important for relationships

Play is integral to a child’s development, and it can help children form trusting relationships with their peers, parents, carers, and other family members.

Role play is an opportunity for children to step into another person’s shoes and practice empathy for their situation. This can help them to understand why somebody may be feeling sad or anxious, which helps to form a bond between the child and the individual.

Playing with others also helps little ones to understand how to co-operate with those around them and the importance of respecting the people they’re playing with.

“Play is essential to a child’s development as it’s one of the key learning strategies they have, plus it’s lots of fun,” says Rachel Cox, Head of Childcare at TSW Training. “One of the playwork principles states that all children have a right to play, and this is so true. It’s a fundamental aspect of childhood, and one that helps a child develop in so many ways.” 

Whether they spend their time creating, engaged in messy play, or acting out different scenarios, a child will identify the important people in their life through play. It’s important for any childcare worker to be aware of this and allow them to lead their play in their own, unique way.

Gain childcare qualifications with TSW Training

If your team are eager to learn more about playwork and how it can enhance a child’s learning experience, take a look at the childcare programmes we offer:

Picture of Richard Hywood
Richard Hywood
Richard is TSW Training Apprenticeships’ Employer and Community Engagement Manager. His articles will help your business prepare for and manage apprentices.
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