Simple Ways to Promote Inclusion Practices in Your Classroom
With approximately 20 percent of the American population having a diagnosed disability, our early childhood classrooms are becoming increasingly inclusive to children with special rights (formerly special needs). The term “special rights” is very broad and can consist of challenges such as mobility, socialization, regulation and/or cognition. As the Learning Specialist at Temple Emanu-El, Dallas’ Early Childhood Education Center, I have helped teachers seamlessly integrate children with special rights into their classrooms by developing practices that benefit all children.
Sensory Tool Kit
Everyone, regardless of whether they have a diagnosed sensory processing disorder, requires various sensory stimuli. Sensory disorders make it difficult to perform academically, socially and physically in typical classrooms.
To help meet the sensory needs of our young children, each class (Infants through Kindergarten) receives a sensory toolkit at the beginning of the year. These kits contain age-appropriate items which are used to meet the sensory needs of the children in that class. When children are upset and need to calm down, they can enlist tools such as breathing balls and liquid bubbles. If a child requires sensory input while sitting for their morning meeting, they can sit on wiggle cushions or squeeze textured balls.
Routines, Routines, Routines
The dictionary defines a routine as “a sequence of actions regularly followed.” While all children benefit from predictable routines, this is especially true for children with special rights. To help classrooms create consistent routines and rituals, we have adopted:
- Picture schedules
- Transition songs and
- Visual timers
All classes utilize picture schedules (with real pictures) to show the children what their day looks like. Teachers go over the schedule during their meeting time. They explain to the children what will happen throughout the day while referencing the pictures. This allows the children to visualize their schedule and allow them to predict what will happen next.
This visual helps children understand that activities will not last forever and eventually they will transition to something new. To assist children with transition difficulties, the teacher will reference the schedule frequently throughout the day and give verbal reminders such as “Remember, after outside, we go to music. After music, we get to go back outside!”
Singing during transitions and waiting times are routines that many of our classes include in their busy days. Some songs are silly while other songs give children directions for daily activities such as using walking feet in the classroom.
Time warnings are imperative for smooth transitions between activities. Because young children don’t have a strong concept of time, Time Timers provide a visual warning in combination with a verbal warning. Teachers provide time warnings to signal the end of play time, meals or other activities. While saying, “We have 5 more minutes until we clean up”, the Time Timer is set to five minutes. A red disc on the timer allows children to watch the time actually disappear.
Creating a Universal Vocabulary
Early exposure to individual differences greatly impacts a child’s comfort level around individuals with special rights. In order to promote continued positive experiences, it is important for adults to encourage curiosity and model positivity. When talking to children about disabilities, keep the following in mind:
- Focus on similarities. Typically developing children and children with special rights can share many commonalities. It is important for children to recognize that everyone has different abilities but may also enjoy similar activities.
- Encourage children to ask questions. Rather than children being afraid of differences, encourage them to ask questions. If you don’t know an answer, research together!
- Use respectful language. Adults can provide very impactful messages to children by choosing their language carefully. Try replacing the word “normal” with “typical.” Focus on how adaptive equipment such as wheelchairs and leg braces help people move around, much like the legs of a typically developing child.
- Find resources when necessary. There is an increasing number of books for young children about special rights that can open up conversations.
Creating sensory toolkits, establishing consistent classroom routines, and modeling inclusive language are simple ways early childhood educators can promote inclusive practices. These techniques benefit all children, regardless of diagnoses.
By Jessica Frank, Learning Specialist, Temple Emanu-El Dallas