The first place we feel that we belong is with our family. I think it is so important to include their family in the first days of school so they can transfer that feeling of belonging from home to school. I bring in pictures of my family and encourage my students to do the same.
After sharing pictures of our family and why they are special, many students like to keep them in their agenda, desk or backpack to look at throughout the day. It gives them comfort and makes them feel more able to take on whatever the day might bring.
The next step in belonging to a group is that students feel like they are a contributing member of the group; that they have an important role to play in the classroom. I know that many teachers have a large job chart for each student, but I keep it simple. I put my students into groups of five and each student in that group has a special job to do for the week. We switch cards each week. Through these jobs students take ownership of their supplies, materials, classroom and behavior.
I find this area challenging to help students without seeming forced. I encourage partner work in the classroom, so we pair up by matching hands, feet or elbows and meet a new friend in the process! I love to do celebrity of the week, which celebrates each student in the class every week. We do warm fuzzies (sit in a circle and say one nice thing about each student) as well as Friendship lunches (sit with a new friend at lunchtime). Teachers can't make friendships happen but then can help students to manage relationships by creating a classroom of caring.
This theme of belonging also continues into our academic work. In Social Studies we talk about belonging to our family, school and community and different groups that we belong to. I like to reinforce these concepts through stories, discussions and hands on activities like this one. Click on the picture to use this activity in your classroom!