Building relationships to strengthen learning

Our thoughts go out to the families of Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, Christchurch and Japan in the wake of recent and devastating floods, bushfires, earthquakes, the tsunami and nuclear disaster. The resulting health, social and economic costs of these tragedies are almost too much to comprehend.

The horror of the tsunami and earthquake in Japan in particular raises concerns about the long-term emotional impact on children and families. Homes, businesses, schools and early childhood centres have been destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of children and families will be homeless and dislocated for a long time. Many children have been orphaned. The death of relatives, friends and pets has serious long-term effects on children’s health. Rebuilding children’s lives in disaster-struck areas is a priority.

Children’s fears about disasters are real. Emotional trauma has physical outcomes. Even children not directly affected by the floods or earthquake may have trouble sleeping, bad dreams, and anxiety attacks. People coping with aftershocks around Christchurch and northern Japan say the stress and uncertainty is debilitating.

As we know, communities are generally strong and resilient. Nowhere is this more evident than in Japan. But there will be no easy bouncing back from these tragedies. It will take time, money and extraordinary effort and spirit to rebuild.

While early childhood educators will help to rebuild in their own areas, probably the most effective way the rest of us can assist reconstruction efforts, especially in Japan, is by making cash donations to humanitarian organisations involved in relief operations.

As 2011 rushes ahead the roll-out of the National Quality Framework gains pace. Aim to attend one of the Early Years Learning Framework Professional Learning Workshops. Register online at

In this issue of Every Child we continue to focus on building quality and improving outcomes for children, especially vulnerable learners. Importantly, we look at the idea of building relationships and interacting positively and purposefully with children.

Quality experiences are not always about money or resources. Quality outcomes and experiences are mainly about intent and relationships. The best learning can happen on a dry river bed in Central Australia or in a dirt floor hut in Africa if the setting is rich in language and ideas and responsive to children’s needs. Critically, the quality of the relationships and interactions between people must be strong and purposeful and there must be shared goals and vision for development and learning.

Jenni Connor writes that ‘Time is the most precious commodity for children … time for professionals to get together; time to talk deeply with families; time to get to know each child to find out what they already know and can do. Providing this time … will pay off in terms of children’s long-term learning success’. As we now know, she says, ‘Internationally acclaimed early childhood programs amply demonstrate that you can’t get cognitive outcomes without investing in relationships with children and families’.

She also highlights the importance of continuity of experiences for children and stresses the need for educators in the first year of school to ‘… be familiar with the Early Years Learning Framework and its directions so that they can assess children’s progress towards the Framework’s Outcomes and build on children’s developing capabilities’.

Again, relationships are the key to success in the KidsMatter Early Childhood program. It focuses on strengthening relationships through creating a sense of community and building children’s social and emotional skills in conjunction with families and educators. ‘Warm, trusting, responsive relationships between staff and children’, practising social-emotional skills and ‘… supported, knowledgeable and reflective staff all contribute to supporting the development of children’s social and emotional skills’.

In other articles, Pam Linke focuses on social and emotional skills as a basis for curriculum and the ways they are enriched by social interactions and relationships; Andrew Connolly writes about building early numeracy understandings and Catherine Hydon on building professional strengths so that we have the capacity to work productively with children. In each article we can see that how we interact with children and the experiences we create largely determines how they view themselves and their world, and how they grow as learners and doers.

Alison Elliott



Building relationships to strengthen learning by Alison Elliott was featured in Every Child Vol. 17 No. 1—Relationships and interactions.