Supporting children’s wellbeing in a Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program

What does it mean for children to have a strong sense of wellbeing?   

The Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF) defines wellbeing as 'having good mental and physical health, including attachment, positive affect and self-regulation' (p. 20) and recognises wellbeing as a key Learning and Development Outcome.   

Wellbeing Practice Guide 

Children attending a Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program are provided with many opportunities to learn about themselves, as well as those around them, which supports them to build a strong sense of wellbeing. Therefore, early childhood professionals play a critical role in supporting the wellbeing of children, by ensuring that children are in an inclusive, welcoming and supportive environment when they are attending kindergarten.  

This page focuses on understanding and responding to children's emotions and supporting effective transitions and routines for children attending Three-Year-Old Kindergarten programs. For further information on physical health, healthy eating and general safety, see: Health, development and wellbeing in the early years.

Relationships with significant others, including teachers and educators, form the basis for current and future learning and development, wellbeing and secure attachments. Secure attachments bring: 

  • emotional warmth and security 
  • confidence to explore 
  • autonomy 
  • positive expectations and ideas about future relationships. 

In supporting the wellbeing of children, early childhood professionals should explore the multiple ways that attachments are formed and sustained, transitions and routines are managed, and emotional wellbeing of children is supported. Viewing wellbeing as an integral part of the Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program requires early childhood professionals to become intentional in all aspects of their practice and not view these elements as separate to the educational program. 

Understanding and responding to children's emotions 

Learning to express and regulate emotions is a skill that children develop over time and through trial and error, as well as with the support of the adults around them.  

Having high expectations and attending to the emotional needs of three-year-old children will support children to develop a strong sense of wellbeing. As the VEYLDF notes, 'early childhood professionals can help children build social and emotional skills and strategies – such as perseverance, sociability and self-esteem' (p. 6).  

Teachers and educators who are sensitive to the range of emotions children feel and express, demonstrate attunement and attentiveness, and develop trusting and reciprocal relationships supporting the delivery of educational programs which are tailored to the needs of children attending the service. This attunement creates an emotional climate where children feel safe, secure and respected.  

To achieve this, early childhood professionals should consider: 

  • spending one-on-one time to get to know each child when they begin attending a Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program
  • ensuring their practice is inclusive and welcoming of all children, particularly those from diverse backgrounds and/or who may be experiencing vulnerability 
  • accessing vital information from the family about how to best support the child's transition into the kindergarten program 
  • being sensitive and tuned in to the needs of every child 
  • developing strategies to respond to both the individual and group needs of three-year-old children. 

Opportunities for children to develop emotional literacy can be included in all educational programs. Emotional literacy is the ability to identify, understand, and respond to emotions in oneself and others. Developing emotional literacy enables children to better navigate interactions with peers, transitions and challenges as they arise; as well as frustrations and unexpected situations they may encounter.  

To support the emotional literacy of three-year-old children, consider: 

  • helping children to name how they feel, identify emotions of others, and develop empathy for others 
  • reading stories to children about emotions and assisting them to identify the emotions the characters in the story display 
  • encouraging children to talk about their feelings and the feelings of others 
  • modelling how to remain calm and in control when encountering a challenge  
  • teaching children how to express their frustrations. 

Understanding and managing emotions is a critical part of learning together and participating in a Three-Year-Old Kindergarten community.  

Effective transitions and routines

The ways in which early childhood professionals view and implement routines can have a significant impact on children's wellbeing. For some children, attending a Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program may be their first involvement in an early childhood education program and, as such, the routines which are a part of the day will be unfamiliar to them.  

Routines are a part of every kindergarten program. Within a Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program, these can include group times (small and large), shared meals with other children, as well as transition times during the day. 

Recognising the importance of routines for providing a rhythm to the day, and a level of predictability for children, is critical. However, within routines it is also important to consider the individual needs and interests of children, opportunities to be flexible, and adapting the program accordingly.

Transitions are often used to assist children to move from one experience to another (e.g. from outdoor play, to washing hands, then to a meal). Similar to routines, making these daily transitions calm, predictable, sensitive to the needs of children, and age appropriate, are more likely to ensure children have a positive association and experience.  

Both routines and transitions offer ample opportunities for learning and building trusting and caring relationships with children.  

When routines and transitions are in sync with children, then these opportunities can become an important part of children's learning and development across the day and not viewed as merely a procedure. Paying attention to the involvement of children in play experiences will alert teachers and educators to the suitability of beginning a transition. Sometimes delaying a transition and routine because children are actively involved in learning can be beneficial for all children. 

Connections to the VEYLDF

Wellbeing is one of the five VEYLDF Learning and Development Outcomes. Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing, focuses on the role early childhood professionals play in supporting the physical, social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of children. This is evident when children:

  • show an increasing capacity to understand, self-regulate and manage their emotions in ways that reflect the feelings and needs of others
  • demonstrate trust and confidence.  

Related to Outcome 3, Outcome 1: Children have a strong sense of identity, focuses on children feeling safe, secure and supported, and having opportunities to develop their emerging autonomy, inter-dependence, resilience and sense of agency within the kindergarten program. This is evident when children: 

  • build secure attachment with one and then more familiar educators  
  • use effective routines to help make predicted transitions smooth. 

Questions for reflective discussion 

To support children attending a Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program to have a strong sense of their wellbeing, take some time to reflect on the following questions. 

  • What are you looking for when observing and understanding children's wellbeing? 
  • How might you give the same level of attention to our relationships across all aspects of the daily program (e.g. group time, eating times and when children are outdoors?)   
  • Do your relationships honour the image of children presented in the VEYLDF? If so, how? 
  • How might you support children's emotional literacy, and what might be a range of appropriate experiences to teach and learn about emotions? 
  • How do the early childhood professionals you work with define wellbeing for children? 

Connection to the Box of Educational Resources 

A Box of Educational Resources has been provided to services funded to deliver Three-Year-Old Kindergarten in 2020 and 2021. It includes resources that specifically focus on educator practice to best support children's wellbeing. Some relevant resources included in the box are also freely available online and these links are listed below, while some others are only available in hard copy.

Resources available online 

  • VCAA, Wellbeing Literature Review: This review outlines children's trajectory of wellbeing, and the learning environments and responsive interactions that support the development of wellbeing.  

Resources available in the box 

  • Everyday Learning – Executive function in the early years: This booklet helps educators to understand the importance and foundations of executive function and how children's development can be supported.  
  • Secure transitions – Supporting children to feel secure, confident and included: This booklet describes secure transitions as being about relationships rather than just managing procedures. It covers attachment, making space to 'be with' children, transitions and separations, and supporting children from culturally diverse backgrounds.

    See, Page 15 titled 'Transitions that give 'warming up' support to help children make friends', which focuses on the importance of building connections with peers in order to support children's wellbeing. It provides practical ideas on how to support children's friendships as they transition into new services or settings.

Other resources

ACECQA National Quality Standards, Quality Area 5 – Relationships with children: This National Quality Standard (NQS) is assessed by each service's regulatory authority. This information provides support to teaching teams to promote relationships with children that are responsive, respectful an promote children's sense of security and belonging. Relationships of this kind free children to explore the environment and engage in play and learning.  

Safe & Secure: A trauma informed practice guide for understanding and responding to children and young people affected by family violence – This Australian Childhood Foundation guide provides an overview of how trauma impacts development, behaviour and attachment in the early years, and how early childhood professionals can use this to provide trauma informed care.

Maternal and child health services - Better Health Channel – The Victorian Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Service works in partnership with families to care for babies and young children. The Service is free for all Victorian families. Early childhood professionals are encouraged to work in partnership with local MCH services to better support the families and children in their care.  

Be You – Be You is the national mental health in education initiative delivered by Beyond Blue, in collaboration with Early Childhood Australia and headspace. The Be You website contains a wide variety of resources including fact sheets and observation and planning tools, which education professionals can use to support the mental health and wellbeing of children in their care. 

Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence – Developed by Harvard University's Centre for the Developing Child, this resource provides an overview of the key components of Executive Functioning and how this can be supported through adult-child interactions in the early years.

Dean, C. and Bary, R. (2008) Burn the rosters and free the teachers: This article is about deepening educator understanding around attachment, relationships and centre practices.  It discusses the impact of centre staffing rosters on young children's sense of self and relationships with teachers. It brings attention back to what is important, the child.  

DET, VEYLDF Practice Principle Guide High Expectations for Every Child (pdf - 429.75kb): The guide draws on the VEYLDF Evidence Paper Practice Principle 3: High expectations for every child and should be used in conjunction with the VEYLDF Practice Principle High Expectations for Every Child video.  

DET, VEYLDF Practice Principle Guide Respectful Relationships and Responsive Engagement (pdf - 416.43kb): This practice guide supports early childhood professionals to critically reflect on their respectful relationships and responsive engagement practice. The guide draws on the VEYLDF Evidence Paper Practice Principle 5: Respectful relationships and responsive engagement (pdf - 1.47mb) and should be used in conjunction with the VEYLDF Practice Principle Respectful Relationships and Responsive Engagement video. The video profiles professionals, families and children from several services to help teaching teams as they continue to build their skills and knowledge around creating respectful relationships and engaging responsively to support children's learning and development.   

For infants, toddlers and preschoolers (birth to 5 years) | Australian Government Department of Health – This resource provides a detailed overview of the recommended physical activity requirements for infants, toddlers, and young children.

Moore, T. (2007) Fostering young children's social-emotional well-being: Building positive relationships with children and families  

Early Start University of Wollongong (2020) How your practices can support children - Using established practice to support children: This video focuses on supporting children at times of stress and natural disaster. It identifies practices to prioritise in early childhood during these times and reminds educators to go back to what they know (including frameworks - VEYLDF and National Quality Standards) to facilitate the way we work.