Inclusive education is an academic and social asset to all children, with and without disabilities. Research shows that the instruction methods that are typical of inclusive education, such as peer tutoring, cooperative learning groups, and differentiated instruction, are beneficial to all learners and help to enhance learning. So why wait until your child is in elementary or high school to reap these benefits? As with nearly anything in life, the earlier your child is introduced to new and exciting things, the more readily they will incorporate what they learn into their lives and benefit from it. Enrolling your child in a well run inclusive preschool will put your child in an early learning environment that is stimulating, not just for children with delays and disabilities, but for every child.
Educators and parents frequently hear about the benefits of inclusion for children with disabilities, but we hear much less about what children with typical development might gain. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recognizes the following commonly identified benefits for each group of learners.
Benefits of Inclusion for Students With Disabilities
– Increased social initiations, relationships and networks
– Peer role models for academic, social and behavior skills
– Increased achievement of academic and IEP goals
– Greater access to general curriculum
– Enhanced skill acquisition and generalization
– Increased inclusion in future environments
– Greater opportunities for interactions
– Higher motivation and expectation to learn
– Increased school staff collaboration
– Increased parent participation
– Families are more integrated into community
Benefits of Inclusion for Students Without Disabilities
– Meaningful friendships
– Increased appreciation and acceptance of individual differences
– Increased understanding and acceptance of diversity
– Respect for all people
– Preparation for adult life in an inclusive society
– Master activities by practicing and teaching others
– Greater academic outcomes
– All students needs are better met
– More resources for everyone
Currently there is no research that shows any negative effects from inclusion when it is done appropriately with the necessary supports and services for students. To the contrary, studies show there is no reduction in the amount of time allocated to instruction or classroom activities, individual attention to each student, or test scores and grades. (York, Vandercook, MacDonald, Heise-Neff, and Caughey, 1992)
Since “inclusion” is a bit of a buzzword these days how can you tell if a preschool is really inclusive and provides good instruction to all of it’s students? Research from the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin suggests parents look for:
– Students are sitting together: no particular students are isolated or alone with an adult.
Even if a child has an aide, the child should spend most of their time interacting with other students. The aid is there to facilitate the child’s inclusion, not take the place of peers.
– Each student has a role to play in his or her group activities. Roles should be assigned based on the child’s particular skill set.
– All students are frequently asked for responses and encouraged to participate in class discussions.
– Children who don’t speak should participate using the communication techniques and tools they can use such as nods, picture devices, sign language, etc.
– Attitudes and communication about ALL students focuses on individual strengths and abilities, not deficits.
– Each teacher works with all the students. Families can speak to any teacher, not just the teacher with the special education background, for a progress update or an answer.
– School leaders (directors, principles, etc) support and demonstrate a commitment to inclusion.
– Special education assistants/paraprofessionals are part of the overall teaching team, not just working with one student with a developmental concern.
– Teachers and administrative staff work as a team.
– Students do more work than the teachers through group activities, discussion, interaction, hands-on experimentation and exploration.
– Students are seated so they can work together, rather than so that all desks that face the teacher.
– All students work on the same curriculum, but at a variety of levels of complexity.
– There are a variety of ways to participate in activities: verbally, written, by using assistive technology; yes/no/I don’t know; choice of two or three options.
– Students have multiple ways to demonstrate what they know: posters, skits, written essays and papers; art work, etc.
– Every student has opportunities to share his/her gifts, abilities and passions in ways that are appropriate and comfortable for that individual.
– Evaluations are offered in a variety of ways such as multiple-choice exams, verbal quizzes or projects.
– Therapies and special instruction are integrated into regular activities throughout the school day rather than as separate functions outside the classroom activities.
– All students are encouraged to and participate in extra-curricular and social events at school.
– Each student has some time to talk about themselves and what they like.
– Students feel they are part of a community and belong at their school.
– Classmates are involved in helping other students and in cooperative learning.
Clearly inclusion is a valuable asset, but there are a number of other features, which parents should considering when choosing a preschool for their child.
– Family involvement. Young children are greatly influenced by their homes and their parents and caregivers. Parent involvement usually translates into the child retaining more of what they are learning in school and the ability for them to translate their newfound knowledge into their every day life. Parents who regularly communicate with the teachers have regular opportunities to discuss their children’s development. When parents understand how their children grow and develop, they are better able to provide the best start for their children.
– Educated staff. Knowledgeable staff are dedicated and engaged staff. Teachers credentialed in regular and special education, and with backgrounds in child development, music and movement, motor, speech and language specialist etc., will have the knowledge to create an exceptional preschool experience for your child. These diverse educational backgrounds bring a unique perspective to the classroom which h helps the teachers recognize the individual needs of each child and respond to these needs through the curriculum.
– Small classes allow each student to receive the individual attention needed. Teachers also have more time to plan the quality and relevant curriculum and activities. Small classes also give each child more opportunity to form a bonding relationship with the teachers and other students.
– Values individual differences. Children have different personalities, needs, abilities, and likes, dislikes. Preschools that respect and embrace the uniqueness of each child encourage self-confidence, respect, acceptance, open-mindedness, curiosity and a host of other qualities that are essential in this increasingly global world.
We are fortunate to live in a time when inclusive education is available to children with and without special needs. Take this opportunity to make sure your preschooler receives the best academic and real life education available to them. Consider the lifelong benefits all children derive when educated side-by-side children with a broad range of abilities in an inclusive classroom.
Co-authored by Janel Astor, M.A. Ed. and Wendy Kuehnl