Why Relationships Come First

What children learn does not follow as an automatic result from what is taught, rather, it is in large part due to the children’s own doing, as a consequence of their activities and our resources.”   -Loris Malaguzzi, The Hundred Languages of Children

The relationships built between these boys that often frequent the building center was evident when they worked together to build this enclosure in a matter of minutes. Afterwards, they went around high-fiving each other.

Building and sustaining relationships in Kindergarten is complicated and threefold. Teachers need to build relationships with parents so that parents know that they are an important part of their child’s learning. Teachers also need to build relationships with children so that children’s thinking, curiosities, and questions can facilitate children and teachers learning together. Children also need to build relationships with other children because learning happens in social contexts — collaboration, citizenship, and communication skills are all learned through interactions with others.

It is the success of all three of these things that will create the most optimal learning conditions in a classroom. Now I am not saying these things are easy. On the contrary. These things are HARD. There isn’t a manual and because all these things involve actual humans, there is an infinite number of variables to consider. All children belong to families and they bring their experiences, their values, and their beliefs to school every day with them. It is our role as educators to learn about the children and their families, to understand their point of view, to support and encourage them, ultimately, to build relationships with them.

Now, I’d like to share with you a few things that I do to help build relationships and why I do them:

I offer additional supports like one-on-one KinderStart sessions to parents that are unable to attend group sessions or have children that are experiencing difficulty separating from their caregivers. I also set up meetings with parents to discuss some individual children in the year prior to school entry. I also offer support and encouragement through follow-up phone calls or emails. I do this because I want families to know that I care deeply about their children’s success in school and that I am willing to go above and beyond to build a positive relationship with their child and their family. I want them to know that I understand that starting school is an anxious time for some and I am willing to do anything I can to make that process easier for everyone involved. I believe that this small investment of my time in the year prior to school entry will pay dividends later. It’s never too early to start building relationships with parents.

I typically only use whole group meetings to build citizenship, discuss rules, and make decisions that affect everyone. I prefer to model shared reading and writing and do interactive read-alouds in small groups because children can share more readily and I can observe or document more deeply what learning is occurring or what children need support with. I also like to do our sharing of “thumbs-ups or thumbs-downs” in small groups because children have more time to share thinking and feelings. I also find I can listen more effectively. I like to discuss projects and dreams  with children one-on-one. I ask them who they think they might want to collaborate with and why or if they prefer to work alone. I honour their ideas and let them know that I am there to support them. I  read and write with individual children daily because I find it is the ideal time for reading and writing conferences, digital documentation, and occasionally,  assessments. I do all these things to build better relationships with children.

To encourage children to build relationships with each other, I have set up the classroom environment in centers. Children know what is generally expected of them at these centers and they can play and learn with others independently. Throughout the day, I spend time with children at different centers or work with them on projects. I encourage children to solve problems, argue, negotiate, convince, make decisions, and express their feelings to each other. I offer support and encourage positive behaviour, but I don’t force children to share everything and play with everyone. I respect their right to choose their own friends and have their own opinions, as long as it isn’t hurtful to others.  I encourage empathy and kindness and teach them to look out for each other. I do all these things because I want their connection to each other to be REAL. I want them to feel a sense of well-being and belonging to their class, their school, and each other.  I want them to figure out how to get along with others AND how to self-regulate their own emotions and behaviour.  Building positive relationships with each other will help them significantly in the long-term.

This child offered to read a story to another child who was feeling unwell. Caring for a friend was the motivation for this child to begin pointing to words and using the illustrations to tell the story. Another friend offered reading strategies to the reader.

Children are competent and capable learners that thrive in environments where adults get to know them, their interests, and their passions. If we combine this with supportive relationships between parents and teachers AND  children building caring, collaborative relationships with each other, we ignite the learning that can occur in schools.

We cannot ignore the fact that our troubled relationships with parents, our difficult relationships with children, and children’s trouble forming relationships with their peers are often the biggest barriers to learning.

Let’s focus on relationships first. The learning will follow.


Cathy 🙂






Cathy Baker View All →

Dedicated teacher for the past 18 years. Lifelong learner. Newbie blogger. Follow me on Twitter @Baker1973Cathy

2 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Hi Aviva,

    I have 22 students so it’s simply too long for the children to attend and sit to listen to each other. I do these small group check-ins throughout the day, usually before and after transition times. Or when children are starting or ending a new play scenario. I find I get deeper responses from them if I wait till they are ready. Occasionally, the small group of 4-6 becomes a larger group of 10-12…depending on who feels like joining in. How many do you have in your group and when do you do these?

  2. I absolutely agree with you, Cathy, about the benefits of forming these relationships first. I find it interesting how you do a thumbs up and down in small groups instead of a big one. We’ve always done the opposite: looking at this as a way to build a classroom community. When and how do you do these small group check-ins? Are they something you plan, or just something that happens organically through play? I’d love to hear more.


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