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Bristol Belonging Strategy: Belonging in Families 2021 – 2024

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‘Belonging’ is a simple word for a huge concept. Having a sense of belonging is a vital human need, just like the need for food and shelter. To feel we belong, is to feel accepted for who we are, to be encouraged to be who we are. Developing a sense of belonging starts pre-birth in the way we are responded to and grows as we are loved, accepted and encouraged within our family and later in our school and community. Knowing that we belong enables us to face adversity and survive, it enables us to flex, adapt and thrive in response to the highs and lows that life will bring.’

Vision The Belonging Strategy vision is:

  • For our children and young people to have the best possible start in life, gaining the support and skills they need to prosper in adulthood.
  • For our children and young people to be welcomed into a city with a culture of nurture and care, with opportunities to grow with support from their community
  • For our children and young people to have their needs recognised at the earliest point in a system that collaborates to help them thrive.
  • For our children and young people to have a home which sustains, nourishes and protects them in safe and healthy families
  • For our children and young people to have a confident sense of self and identity in a cohesive and diverse city.
  • For our children and young people to access education that is inclusive and values diversity, where they learn from each other and benefit from an understanding of their different experiences.
  • For our children and young people to own the whole city and experience and benefit from all that Bristol offers.

Read this research based at Bristol University online.

Improving outcomes for young children in refugee families: lessons from Somali parents’ experience of play and social interaction opportunities in the UK

Our findings show how disadvantage can impair early child development in migrant families. Social isolation and lack of safe places to play are key points to address.

  • Ensure effective policy and implementation on equal opportunities, Racism and bullying
  • Have procedures in place for identifying refugees in order to meet their particular needs
  • Ensure that settings have a specific person with responsibility for refugees
  • Highlight available training for staff on refugee awareness
  • Translate communications between home and setting
  • Set up positive links with community organisations & schools
  • Extend services to refugees including drop-ins, toy libraries
  • Work with other agencies e.g. colleges, health, social services, to create multi-agency support
  • Develop welcome and settling in policies and procedures
  • Develop a policy on supporting bilingual children and parents
  • Support and encourage the use and development of community languages
  • Obtain all relevant information about a child before they start, such as their name (including correct pronunciation) languages spoken and understood, special needs, etc
  • Practical organisation to help each family
  • Develop a welcoming and calm environment
  • Consider the importance of routines to help develop children’s sense of security and to provide meaningful opportunities for talking and listening
  • Prepare resources for the child in advance e.g. coat peg with photo
  • Ensure that children have long uninterrupted periods of time in which to play, both inside and out.
  • Children living in asylum hostels or flats may have limited opportunities for outdoor physical play. Where appropriate, give newly arrived children more time and space to be outdoors.
  • Forest Experience trip SEE CASE STUDY
  • Use siblings in a school to support each other. It can be quicker for a younger child to settle in and learn English so this confidence can be used to support older siblings in lunch time groups or buddy pairs.
  • Keep spare clothes such as warm coats, waterproofs and wellies suitable for outdoor play
  • Make a ‘Welcome Pack’ for newly arrived children with e.g. paper, crayons and pencils, books.
  • Allow time to observe the children playing in a variety of contexts and use observations to plan for individuals interests and needs
  • Use visual support such as props and puppets to ensure full access to the curriculum
  • Ensure that resources support and reflect the language and culture of the child e.g. books, home corner equipment, signs and labels. Mantra Lingua produces welcome posters and playgroup signs in different languages, as well as a setting/school Welcome Booklet
  • Have a stock of dual language books, audio books, story sacks and toys which families can borrow
  • Activities which are non-verbal, such as music, painting and sport are particularly beneficial for those children who do not have English as their first language and help in raising their self esteem.

What can you do? Picture here… adult and child

‘Education provides the key to new and hopefully more secure lives for refugees. Many schools and teachers are succeeding in providing a haven of peace, stability and opportunity for refugee children.’

‘ Teachers play a fundamental and positive part in the lives of refugee families and especially for refugee children. The arrival of new children provides opportunities for children of all ages to learn about empathy, sharing and caring, respect and kindness. Teaching can challenge and deconstruct racism and stereotyping and can help to develop positive attitudes.’ NEU

Friendly adults who offer stability, safety, smiles & warm welcomes.

Friendships with peers and meaningful play experiences

Young refugee children and their families will need to feel safe and secure if they are to overcome the obstacles they face when rebuilding their lives. Early years settings can play a crucial role in helping refugee children and their families to feel welcome and a part of their local community. Children’s Centres with their emphasis on multi-agency working will be places where refugee families can obtain important information, advice and support around a number of key issues including health, housing and benefits.

What do you notice?

Signs of distress- behaviour as a communicator of emotions.

Please see Trauma Informed Practice.

 ‘A child recently arrived at an early years setting who has experienced some trauma may demonstrate feelings of distress in a variety of ways. It is important to be aware of these signs so that children are not automatically labelled as ‘difficult’ and to help practitioners meet their needs more effectively. It is true though that behaviour will vary greatly and all children will need time to adjust and settle in to a new environment’ Islington Early Years

What are the signs of distress a child may exhibit? Please see Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

  • Feelings of panic caused by flashbacks
  • Feeling distressed by things that remind them of frightening past events, such as loud noises, helicopters / aeroplanes or men in uniforms
  • Poor sleep due to nightmares
  • Poor concentration skills
  • ‘Acting out ‘real life scenarios in their play
  • Withdrawn and overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells of the group
  • Disruptive and aggressive, unable to settle or take part in group activities
  • Stop speaking or start bed wetting
  • At times appear restless and overexcited or provocative
  • Show lack of interest in food or demonstrate other eating issues
  • Difficulty with settling in to their new setting.

 Many children will need to just observe what is happening before developing the confidence to engage in play in a more active sense.


‘Active steps to counter prejudice about refugees and stereotypical representations or media fuelled simplifications about refugees do not help to generate understanding and empathy amongst the adults and children of the host community.’ NEU

Families arriving in UK may are likely to include some or all of the following:

  • a drop in living standards
  • the effects of poverty as families live on reduced welfare benefits
  • living in temporary accommodation, possibly with frequent moves
  • being isolated and subject to racism and harassment
  • separation from immediate family or usual carers
  • the effects of poor health

 In addition to this, young children will have to get used to;

  • a new language
  • different food and drink
  • a new place to live
  • different weather
  • unfamiliar TV programmes, music, stories and books
  • different clothes and toys
  • miss their home, friends and familiar surroundings

The healing process. 5 to Thrive and TIP

Play has an important role in helping children settle into their new environment. It offers children a way of making sense of their experiences in a controlled and safe situation. Play can allow children the chance to explore and come to terms with past hurts and fears.

The Importance of PLAY.

EYFS Statutory Framework 2021

1.14 This framework does not prescribe a particular teaching approach. Play is essential for children’s development, building their confidence as they learn to explore, relate to others, set their own goals and solve problems. Children learn by leading their own play, and by taking part in play which is guided by adults.

1.15 In planning and guiding what children learn, practitioners must reflect on the different rates at which children are developing and adjust their practice appropriately. Three characteristics of effective teaching and learning are:

  • playing and exploring – children investigate and experience things, and ‘have a go’
  • active learning – children concentrate and keep on trying if they encounter difficulties, and enjoy achievements
  • creating and thinking critically – children have and develop their own ideas, make links between ideas, and develop strategies for doing things

Adults can take part in and facilitate play in a number of ways;

  • Having a day that allows for children’s uninterrupted play
  • Providing a good range of resources to allow children to express themselves in a variety of ways
  • Taking time to listen and observe
  • Taking children’s initiative and join in on request as another player
  • Modelling -where the adult participates in play, joins in and acts out a role
  • Extending play by making comments or suggestions or providing additional props or information
  • Participating as play partners in children’s drama and storylines
  • Genuine conversations joining in fantasy
  • Sustained shared thinking

It may be that some children, who have witnessed violence in some form, may wish to engage in war, weapon and rough and tumble play. Reflect on what this behaviour is communicating to you. It is important that, while boundaries and general rules about kindness and not hurting each other are adhered to, adults do not spend all their time giving negative attention and feedback to these children. This may happen if the setting has a zero tolerance approach to such play. An understanding of why it is happening and willingness by the adult to join in and channel it positively would enable those children’s needs to be met more fully. It may be the case that some refugee or asylum seeker parents may not understand the role of play in the early years setting and that practitioners will need to provide specific information about learning through play for particular groups of parents, providing interpreters or translations where necessary.

‘We don’t play with guns here’ by Penny Holland

Superhero gun play at Speedwell. Luci Gorell Barnes

‘War, Conflict and Play’ by Tina Hyder

Supporting Child who are Refugees

Practical strategies and activities in EYFS to support emotional wellbeing

Please see Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED)

 ♦ A Key person ensures that a child can begin to establish a close and trusting relationship with one person. This is particularly important for refugee children who may have lost many of the significant adults in their lives. You are an emotionally available adult (EAA TIP LINK)

  • Demonstrate being warm and friendly with facial words, expressions and body language – it is important that both the child and their family feel welcome and valued by adults in the setting.
  • Helping children to make positive friendships. Share personal histories with all your families.
  • Children work in groups of four or five around a large sheet of paper painting or sticking on pictures of the items they would like to have. There is space for painting personal items as well as communal space for children to paint together. The activity is a good prompt for talk. Book ‘You Choose’.
  • Creative opportunities for art, music and drama are particularly important for refugee children as they encourage self-expression. ‘100 languages’ Reggio Emilia approach to giving children a variety of creative ways to express themselves.
  • Many traditional and modern stories explore themes such as conflict, changes in life circumstances and bereavement. These stories can be shared in story telling sessions to help those who have experienced such life events to see that they are not alone or different. Letterbox library supplies a range of books on issues such as bereavement, refugees and bullying. Storyboxes and props can provide opportunities for children to retell stories, often adding themselves in as characters.

See Book Trust list of books and CLPE

Talking about war and conflict.

  • Group time or Circle time activities can help children express themselves and develop skills of empathy and listening to others. Establishing ground rules to create a safe, relaxing environment can increase the confidence of children to share feelings and experiences.
  • The use of puppetry can also be used as a way of engaging young children. As well as developing communication skills, puppets can also help children explore their feelings and experiences

Exploring notions of sanctuary, security and safety- some ideas from Islington Early Years.

 What makes a place safe? Where do you feel safe?

Discuss with children where they go and to whom they go when they feel unsafe?

What does safety feel like? Allow the children to make cosy dens, and draw and paint pictures of special places. Explore this issue with soft toys or persona dolls to encourage children to empathise and problem solve. For example, make some soft toys wet and cold (by leaving them in the freezer) and leave them in a central place with a letter for the children to discover when they arrive at the early years setting. The letter can explain to the children that the animals are feeling lonely, scared, wet, cold and need care. Could they think of ways to help them feel happy and safe?

Use picture books as starting points for discussions about comforting and secure places, and special people.

Ten in the bed- Penny Dale

Can’t you sleep little bear? – Martin Waddell

 Owl babies- Martin Waddell

Dogger -Shirley Hughes

 Who are your friends- Jillian Powell

Where’s my teddy- Jez Alborough

Taken from Islington Education document written by Tracy Smith and Maria Tallon


Nicola Theobald – (General and Nursery School Enquiries)

Deborah Brown – (General Enquiries)

Dawn Butler – (General Enquiries)

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