The ABC´s of promoting child well-being in early childhood education

There are many factors that influence and support a child's mental, physical and social well-being. This text is talking about the child’s well-being taking into account both children and adults from the perspective of Heli Ärilä, an expert in early childhood education.

Ärilä is a teacher of Early Childhood Education and a Master of Education with long and extensive work experience in the field of Early Childhood Education. She has been working as an early childhood education teacher since autumn 1989. She studied Master's in Early Childhood Education at the University of Helsinki. During her working years, she has encountered a variety of children, families and work communities.

Holistic well-being

Ärilä regards the general, fundamental supportive factor of the well-being as a warm and safe interaction environment built by adults and children, where each child is encountered as a precious and important member of the group. She adds that this dialogue of community and individuality also includes flexible approaches that evolve according to the specific group of children.

− Play and friendships, as well as meaningful activities and challenges in learning, enable all children to have a sense of commitment and success that supports well-being. These experiences require both the responsibility of adults for the smooth running of activities and listening as well as appreciating children's own perspectives. Confidential cooperation with parents also provides children with security and diversifies the perceptions of children about their needs and well-being, says Ärilä.

Structured activities as a part of well-being

Structured activities are also important for the well-being of the child. Ärilä notes that a well-managed, structured and predictable environment with facilities, practices, and educators generally contributes to children's well-being in early childhood education. Likewise, the ability to satisfy one's own physical needs, such as nutrition, outdoor activities, exercise, and rest, influences children's alertness and is related to children's overall functioning and satisfaction. In addition, supporting children's independence, access to help, care and intimacy are all linked to children's own experiences of well-being and meaningfulness.

− Well-being is a very complex concept, which in most situations includes both individual, social and emotional dimensions, realized in different ways as experienced by the children themselves, Ärilä points out.

Social well-being

According to Ärilä, a teacher of early childhood education can influence the well-being of children by purposefully strengthening group cohesion and recognizing each child's strengths and uniqueness. Group pedagogy should take into account the individual needs of children, and it is important to address potential visible learning or behavioral challenges with the children in a positive, accepting environment. All team members should work together to support children's well-being by being present, observing children, sharing their observations, and constantly reflecting on their own work. On this basis, they can also develop group practices, divide activities and, where appropriate, seek information and new approaches to support the learning and well-being of all children.

Educators influence on well-being

− The well-being of the employees also has a significant impact on the atmosphere of the group and the well-being of the children. Therefore, it is important that there is a strong sense of community, meaning, a common foundation of values, mutual respect, trust, and openness, among adults in the group, that is preferably approached with joy and humor, Ärilä says.

Ärilä emphasizes that the views presented above are related to her own values, knowledge, work and life experience. It is therefore difficult to describe the well-being of children on a general level only objectively, as children, groups of children, teams, and situations are different. She goes on to say that her ideas are also purely theoretical, separate from the varying resources of time, space, and people in everyday life.

− These structural factors naturally affect the well-being of children and employees and the ability of educators to support the well-being of the children in the group the best way they see fit, Ärilä points out.

Early childhood education professionals have a significant impact on promoting and supporting a child´s well-being.

Writer: Saana Sönderlund

Interviewee: Heli Ärilä, an early childhood education teacher, Masters of education