It’s not all about relationships — or is it?

Many discussions about quality in education and care services include at some point—often as a summary statement—the assertion that ‘in the end, it’s all about relationships’. This is likely to occur whether the topic is pedagogy, leadership, community connections, staff relationships, links with other services and professionals or family partnerships.

Is this ‘throw-away line’ accurate? If it is, might it become an excuse for mediocre curriculum?ART_2525

Strong, warm, positive individualised relationships between educators and children are fundamental, the cornerstone upon which good programs for each child are built. However, does this strongly held belief sometimes interfere with pedagogy—that is, with offering excellent learning opportunities to children?

Children’s relationships are highlighted as critically important in Belonging, Being and Becoming and My Time, Our Place. Emphasis is on not only educator-child relationships but also children’s relationships with each other. I wonder if time-poor educators, weary of so much change and the many demands made of them, are tempted to invoke the primacy of relationships as a rationale for settling for the ‘same-old, same-old’ learning opportunities and ways of doing things: Play-doh, Lego, the painting easel, a book corner, water and sand, progressive lunches (or not). Might it be tempting to ease comfortably into thinking that relationships are what matter most, and we have good relationships with children and families and children enjoy good relationships with each other—and that’s enough—end of story?

It takes mental and physical energy to be genuinely critically reflective, to strive to improve continually, to make changes and assess their effectiveness and, most importantly, to act—to practise mindfully rather than by sticking with the ‘same old, same old’.

Of course there will be times individual educators and even teams resort to coasting along for a time. But we’ve probably all known programs where the relationships were great but there wasn’t much happening that was dynamic and engaging to support children’s learning, where educators reassure themselves that they are warm, caring and responsive.

Being truly responsive, planning a program that takes account of each child’s uniqueness and supporting each child’s learning intentionally means knowing each child well. That won’t result from long-term ‘coasting along’. It requires considerable thoughtful attention, critical reflection and action. Although children are very good at ‘making do’, that is, making the most of a somewhat bland and boring situation (picture a child in the waiting room at the doctor’s surgery as evidence), they need a balance of new things to explore, learn about and play with as well as some ‘same-old, same-old’. There’s nothing wrong with the list above of standard traditional materials and learning opportunities, but if they’re offered day after day, month after month, in the same way then the program is probably solidly mediocre.

It’s not all about relationships—or is it? Is the importance of relationships in education and care services overrated?

Anne Stonehouse

Anne Stonehouse AM lives in Victoria and works as a consultant, writer and facilitator of professional learning in early childhood. She has published many books, articles and other resources for educators and parents. Her main professional interests are the nature of good quality curriculum for babies and toddlers and family-educator relationships in early learning settings. She was a member of the writing team in the Charles Sturt University-based consortium that developed the national Early Years Learning Framework. She is currently engaged in a number of projects related to the national and Victorian Frameworks.

30 thoughts on “It’s not all about relationships — or is it?”

    Kate Lording says:

    Great post Anne. High quality ECEC is all about relationships but the question is, what does a REALLY good relationship look like? It is surely one in which there is careful and thoughtful attention to the needs of the other. Its so much more than good rapport or having fun together. Being in this type of REALLY good relationship, especially when you are the one with more ‘power’ requires you to ask questions like… What does this person need to help them flourish and grow? How do I show respect to this person and really listen to them? What can I do to show this person that I believe in them and want to see more of they can do? How do I let this person know that they are safe and cared for unconditionally? These are the questions behind GREAT relationships and GREAT programming.

    Clare says:

    Very informative reading thank you. It’s all about relationships and getting the best outcomes for the children.

    Lisa Whitney says:

    Thankyou Anne.
    Very interesting and informative reading.
    It is all about relationships and recognising what this looks like.

    Linda Maroney says:

    This is great information and allows us to know how important the relationships between peers is.

    Chintha Jayasena says:

    Useful information helps to build strong, positive relationships with children and families

    kandil aziz ali says:

    Relationships alone isn’t enough in an early childhood setting. However, the quality of experiences, integrating a plethora of activities to an individuals interest. As educators we must always be searching for new ideas, materials, methods and play environment settings. The quality of questions we use, when we do intentional teaching or at interaction time with children play a massive role.

    Sarah Mahab says:

    Thank you for explaining all information in an understanding way. I believe the important part of being an educator is to be able to build a secure relationship with children and families.

    Sarah Mahab says:

    Thank you to explain all information on a understanding way. I believe the important part of be a educator is to be able to build a secure relationship with children and families.

    christine Hoopert says:

    I understand the concept much more clearly now
    Taking on the childrens ideas and extending their play leaves the child feeling accepted and important and confident

    rabira says:

    yes all information is really informative and helpful in our work

    julie says:

    Thank you Anne. I believe you definitely need a good relationship with children as this is the jumping-off point for children to begin their learning journey. If they do not feel as if they belong and are part of something, they will not have the urge to learn, let alone attend.

    Zhihui Ju says:

    Thank you Anne. This is good information for how important to build relationships with children and their families.

    Renee says:

    Great article

    Dolores Ciudad real says:

    Excellent reading, how important is relationships, not only with the children’s but in relationships with families and colleagues to give our student a good role model to foster confidence

    Zahida Kazi says:

    Than you Anne. Love the questions which will really make a change in making GREAT relationships and GREAT programming.

    Michelle says:

    Great article. Not all relationships but a huge part. Relationships with children, colleagues and families.


    Great article,thank you, Anne.
    Relationship with children are important in child care services.
    As a educator, how to inspire more on children’s growing imagination and creativity and language skill, how to set up interesting but meaningful indoor and outdoor learning environment to maximum children’s potential learning abilities, how to scaffold children’s learning by extending their cognitiv development about the world in which they are living, how to make critical reflection and improvements for the extension of activites for next time, those things are also very important for assiting and further developing children’s 5 learning outcomes under the EYLF. That’s also why educators need to continute searching for new ideas, teaching methods and engage in professional development courses to offer best quality service for children at their service.

    Kathy says:

    Great article, really helpful information. It’s really important to have good relationships with children,families.

    Cecilia says:

    Relationship is important for child development. Relationship need to be strong, warm and positive between educators and children. Great article.

    Hollie Charltonn says:

    It was real insightful.

    Carmel says:

    Great read. Gives us something to think about

    Cecilia says:

    Great read, good idea for educator to think about.

    Jacina says:

    Great article. Good relationships are important in any childcare

    Manisha Verma says:

    Good article, Yes, I also believe relationship is the base. establishing a strong relationship with children forms the bedrock for their emotional, social, and cognitive development. It provides them with a sense of security, fosters open communication, supports their emotional needs, and sets the stage for positive interactions and lifelong learning.

    Kerry Bell says:

    I would think that a positive relationship would be one of the most important aspects of caring for children

    Anna says:

    Relationship fosters connection which leads to children becoming supported in their physical and social engagements in their care and education environment. To honor those relationships, is to also be present emotionally, culturally, intellectually and spiritually throughout the time we have with children in our setting.It is to carefully consider the context and the changing context to which the child belongs.Thinking about relationships with children asks me to reflect on the Principles and Practices of the EYLF.

    Romita says:

    I believe that building positive relationships between the child and the family is important part in early childhood setting

    Zahra Hasani says:


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