Early childhood education is evolving into a more inclusive environment for everyone. This includes children with visible and invisible disabilities, as well as typically developing children. But what exactly does inclusion look like in early childhood education?
An inclusive classroom means students with and without learning differences all learn together in one classroom. Inclusive classrooms help foster a welcoming and supportive environment that meets the diverse academic, social, emotional, and communication needs for all of its students.
How Does Teaching Inclusion Benefit Everyone?
Studies have shown that students of all developmental styles benefit from their involvement in an inclusive learning environment. Inclusive learning environments help develop positive self-images, friendship and social skills, problem-solving, and respect for others.
Most young children have not yet been exposed to stereotypes attached to people with visible and invisible disabilities. An inclusive classroom therefore provides opportunities for children to practice acceptance and understanding. Children learn how their classmates with different learning styles and abilities are similar to each other, as well as how they do things in different ways.
Inclusive classrooms also use teaching strategies that meet each child at their individual developmental level, which benefits all children. These strategies help each student learn what is expected of them and how to navigate the classroom as a whole. Oftentimes, teachers will separate students into small groups or hold one-on-one sessions as a way of practicing differentiated instruction. This allows teachers to tailor lessons to best fit each student’s learning style and provides students with opportunities to get up and move around or use fidgets that can help them concentrate.
Available resources in inclusive classrooms are made for everyone. Special education professionals also provide additional information, support, and suggestions,
Teaching Strategies for an Inclusive Classroom
Nicole Eredics, an educator specializing in the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms, details the five classroom management strategies for a successful inclusive classroom. One of these is color-coding the classroom in order to reduce confusion and direct attention to the classroom schedule. Eredics also suggests starting each day stress-free by asking students to do three things when they enter the classroom: unpack their backpacks and hang up their coats, turn in any homework, and do a calming activity of their own choosing.
Another important teaching strategy in an inclusive classroom is creating and maintaining a routine, as this promotes a sense of security in students regardless of their learning styles or abilities.
How Parents Can Help at Home
It is also important for teachers to talk with the families of children in their classrooms about at-home strategies to promote inclusion. As Erin Aguilar, an inclusion specialist and educator for the Easterseals Blake Foundation, writes: “Working together and creating a partnership with families is an important part of inclusion, and can help children reach their developmental potential.”
Though not every school and classroom teaches inclusivity, parents can still teach inclusion to their children. Kids tend to absorb the behaviors and attitudes they see around them. Therefore, in many ways, parents and guardians become their children’s first teachers.
Reading books with diverse characters and stories can play a huge role in the overall development of children. On top of being a great way to introduce new words and concepts, books can help create teaching and learning opportunities for parents to have conversations with their children about what diversity and inclusion means.
Star Bright Books offers a number of inclusive books: siblings of all abilities work together in Laura Dwight’s Brothers and Sisters; Anna is determined to be part of the wreath-laying team at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in spite of her blindness in Barbara H. Cole’s heartwarming book Anna & Natalie; and the true meaning of inclusion is on display in Rochelle Bunnett’s photo essay Friends At School.