Inclusive Learning Environments for Preschool Children with Special Needs Part 1: What is Inclusion? An inclusive learning environment ensures that all children are granted an education with an emphasis of equal importance, along with equal valuing of all students and also staff. Within this non-restricting environment it, “implies that every child should have the resources and support that they need for successful learning”, (Smith, 1998, p. 307).
Within the inclusive learning environment, involving same-age peers needs also to be treated with importance. Inclusive education gives all children the right to belong to mainstream institutions, with the provision of the appropriate support networks and resource to provide for any possible needs. Through research about inclusive learning environments, it has been established that many early childhood practices are supportive of inclusive preschool environments in general.
Despite this general view, “research suggests that values and practices which reflect ideas of disability as difference do exist in some early childhood services in New Zealand”, (MacArthur, Dight, Purdue, 2000, p. 18). Research has been conducted through intensive and detailed observations over a variety of early childhood settings. Some exclusive practices exist which alienate and exclude children with disabilities and their families, which leads to an exclusion from learning opportunities and missing out on social and interactive experiences within the environment.
In inclusive environments however teachers, “did not differentiate between children with disabilities and so-called ‘normal’ children”, (MacArthur et al, 2000, p. 23) and have a shared values system with an emphasis on all children belonging. New Zealand, United States of America and England have a range of excellent legal positions in regard to inclusive preschool education. New Zealand: Education (Early Childhood Centres) Regulations 1998, No. 2a “The licensee of a licensed centre must…enhance children’s learning and development through planning, providing and evaluating a range of appropriate activities that cater for the learning and developmental needs of the children (including children with disabilities) fostering their cognitive, creative, cultural, emotional, physical, and social development, including both individual and group experiences, indoor and outdoors”, (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 23). USA: Public Law 94-142 established in 1975: All students with disabilities will be given a free appropriate education”, (Santrock, 2007, p. 456). In 1997 this law amended to Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which now provided services to all, regardless of age. 2004 saw the ‘No child left behind policy’ introduced. Key points include the recognition of learning disabilities and guarantees all children will be educationally catered for, in accordance to their individual needs. England: Education Act 1981:
Local education authorities have a duty to, “ensure that special educational provision is made for pupils who have special educational needs”, (Beaver, Brewster, Jones, Keene, Neaum, & Tallack, 2001, p. 635). In providing an inclusive learning environment for preschool children with special needs, suitable options are available as a means of providing support. There are many community groups or organizations which may specialize in particular areas or special needs and information can be sought from them, along with guidance and knowledge.
Teacher aides are available to assist the child more one-on-one. Speech and language therapists are available if the child is showing any particular need in these areas and can assist the child in improving these skills through programmes or special learning opportunities or experiences. Multidisciplinary teams are also available which can be a collaboration of various professionals and/or specialists to work alongside the child’s teachers/family to reach Part 2: A 4 year old child with a Hearing Impairment:
In the case of a child with a hearing impairment, certain changes need to be put in place within the preschool environment. The child may have one of three types of hearing impairment, and depending on the degree of deafness, their learning will be affected within the classroom setting. Staff must always be aware that there is a child with a hearing impairment, and in order to ensure every child is receiving equal learning opportunities, this child must be acknowledged and catered for.
The preschool environment is often a loud one, with a combination of voices, outside sounds and general class racket. This constant noise affects the child’s hearing and makes it difficult to fully understand certain words or parts of conversation. Teachers must remember to speak to children directly, resist pacing around a group and this will allow the student to participate in effective communication that is shared and encouraged. A necessary change would be introducing the appropriate policies and/or procedures.
Staff will need to maintain regular observation of the child, to identify any learning area that need to be addressed and also to ensure that the child is gaining the most they can from the preschool environment. Appropriate staff development includes ensuring that the child will be fully able to learn in the environment with the same given opportunities as any other child. The ideal staff member will have strong observation skills, a creative and flexible approach in regard to the best potential learning possibilities for the child, up-to-date planning and a good knowledge of children’s development.
All of these skills will most likely be present but it is important to build on them and continue to strengthen them. In having a child with a hearing impairment as part of the preschool environment, the preschool will have the option of collaborating with other educational, health and community agencies. Multidisciplinary teams are available and their skills involve observing the children with a sound knowledge of children’ development, a degree of planning and also attributes which include a creative and flexible approach.
Resource teachers who support literacy are specially trained teachers who support and work in schools. They also assist staff with helping children address their reading and writing difficulties. (Ministry of Education, 2003, p. 13). Support is additionally available through speech-language therapists, early intervention teachers and advisers on deaf children. As stated, “we work directly with children and collaboratively with families, whanau, educators and specialists from other Government agencies”, (Ministry of Education, 2004, p. ). Legal requirements of the preschool will include, following the current New Zealand Laws in regard to inclusion within the classroom setting. This includes ensuring that every child, including any child with any form of disability within the setting, is granted equal learning and educational opportunities. This also includes the right to access further assistance if any special education is needed to address learning disabilities or areas which require further assistance. Part 3: Summary
Upon researching the area of inclusion among early childhood settings, I now have a greater understanding of what inclusion is and how best to include it in my everyday practice. I believe inclusion is vital in ensuring that all children are treated equally and granted equal opportunities to each other. I was surprised to find in the research on inclusion in preschool environments, that there are still some modern early childhood facilities that fail to meet the needs and requirements for all children within their care, including those children who may have special requirements or disabilities.
It saddens me that with the amount of support and education available to teachers, that there is still a lack of empathy and understanding in this area. It is fantastic to find a great range of information available to people so they are best able to understand the particulars of disabilities some children may have in their carte. With this education comes knowledge, and it is beneficial to the children and their families alike, in ensuring that the child has the best possible opportunities available to them in the education system.
Our attitudes towards disabilities and differences are quite often dated back to our own backgrounds and the way in which we have been educated by family, peers or educational professionals. I think it was good to assess my own views on disabilities and see if they were appropriate in regard to the laws in place that address inclusion within the preschool and early childhood environment. I believe that as my own challenges and personal experiences increase, I will gain a heightened awareness of how disabilities affect children and their families, but also ways in which to better include children in their own environment.
These first-hand experiences, and any written or oral information I may receive in the future will only contribute to the knowledge I have on inclusion and disabilities, and further benefit my own professional conduct. I enjoy this subject and believe the more I learn the better asset I will be to children in assisting them educationally in their present and ultimately future lives. References: Beaver, M. , Brewster, J. , Jones, P. , Keene, A. , Neaum, S. , & Tallack, J. (2001). Babies and young children. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes. Santrock, J. (2007). Child development. (11th Ed. ). New York: McGraw Hill. Smith, A. (1998).
Understanding children’s development: (4th Ed). Wellington: Bridget Williams Books MacArthur, J. , Dight, A. , & Purdue, K. (2000). ‘Not so special’: Values and practices in early childhood education for children with disabilities. Early Education. p. 18 Ministry of Education. (2004). About Special Education in Early Childhood. New Zealand: Ministry of Education. Ministry of Education. (2007). Education (Early Childhood Centres) Regulations 1998. Wellington: published under the authority of the New Zealand Government. Ministry of Education. (2003). Meeting Special Education Needs at School. New Zealand: Ministry of Education.