The Benefits of an Inclusive Education: Making It Work
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In an increasing number of early childhood programs around the country, teachers, children, and parents are discovering the benefits of educating young children with special needs together with their same-age peers. Since learning is so important in the early years, this is the best time for children to begin to respect all people's differences and the contributions each individual makes. The key to creating a successful inclusive program is educating ourselves and others about how to ensure every student in the classroom has the chance to reach his or her fullest potential.
Children with disabilities are, first and foremost, children, and then children who may need support or adaptations for learning. The term "special needs" refers to a wide range of developmental disabilities or learning needs that may occur in different areas and to varying degrees. Traditionally, children with special needs were pulled out of regular classrooms and grouped together as if all their needs were alike. Relatively few children with disabilities were served in community-based early childhood programs apart from Head Start or public school programs.
In 1992, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) established equal rights for people with disabilities in employment, state and local public services, and public accommodations including preschools, child care centers and family child care homes. The ADA has helped more and more educators recognize that developmentally appropriate classrooms are places where all children can and should learn together.
Early childhood teachers' strong knowledge of child development helps them to successfully teach young children with all talents, interests, and abilities. In effective inclusive programs, teachers adapt activities to include all students, even though their individual goals may be different. At times, early childhood professionals and children may benefit from the assistance of related professionals such as physical therapists and other school personnel who recognize children's individual interests and strengths.
Some raise concerns about the advisability of creating inclusive environments: Will inclusive classrooms hinder the academic success of children without special needs? How will an inclusive environment meet the needs of children with disabilities? Will children without special needs lose out on teacher time? How can early childhood professionals access resources, support and training? While these questions are valid, parents and teachers will find that creative modifications help all children's learning. According to the director of one NAEYC-accredited center, "Inclusion has helped us better focus on meeting the needs of every child in our program."
Research shows that the benefits of inclusive classrooms reach beyond academics. This is particularly important for young children, who learn best when they feel safe, secure, and at home in their classrooms. An environment that encourages young children's social and emotional development will stimulate all aspects of their learning.
Children in inclusive classrooms:
Professional development programs, supplemental support staff, and teamwork by parents and school personnel will help achieve inclusion's ultimate goal: to provide a challenging and supportive educational experience for all children.
Caring for Children with Special Needs. 1993. San Francisco, CA: Child Care Law Center.
Chandler, P.A. 1994. A Place for Me. Washington, DC: NAEYC #237/$4.50.
Division for Early Childhood, Council for Exceptional Children, 1444 Wazee St., Suite 230, Denver, CO, 80202.
Early Childhood Initiative, Colorado Department of Education, State Office Building, Denver, CO, 80203.
Understanding the ADA. 1993. Washington, DC: NAEYC #514. 50¢ each/ 100 for $10.
Woolery, M. & J.S. Wilbers, eds. 1994. Including Children with Special Needs in Early Childhood Programs. Washington, DC: NAEYC #145/ $8.
For more information, contact:
National Association for the Education of Young Children
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