As early care and education providers, we strive each day to create environments in which children can learn and feel successful. We accomplish this through carefully choosing the materials, activities, and types of interactions present in the environment. We adapt activities to make them more challenging for some children and break some tasks down into smaller steps for children who are working to develop new skills. We ask provocative questions to expand children’s thinking and help children connect new information to prior knowledge.
All of these skills serve us well as we work to promote development across all domains of learning for the multiple children in our care. This is challenging work. No two children are alike in their developmental needs on a given day. The milestones and learning outcomes we use to guide our practice are just that- a guide. Many children will meet milestones within the expected age range and some children follow the developmental progressions provided in early learning standards exactly as they are written, without difficulty.
However, it is also common for some children to need more time to develop certain skills. This need may or may not be associated with a diagnosable disability. In some cases, children may even move through learning progressions more quickly than expected. Regardless of the reason, there are steps that early care and education providers can put in place to make sure that all children move forward on their unique developmental path.
According to the Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children (DEC), there are certain practices that caregivers can implement to support all learners in inclusive environments. These practices are outlined in the 2014 release of the DEC Recommended Practices. We will explore some of these practices in different sections of the December newsletter. Before exploring the specific practices that support learning, it is important to identify a few foundational principles that make inclusive environments possible, specifically:
• The understanding of developmentally appropriate practices in early childhood: https://www.naeyc.org/resources/topics/dap
• The awareness of the professional, legal, and regulatory guidelines for serving children with disabilities in early learning programs: https://www.ada.gov/childqanda.htm
• A clear understanding of the principles included in the DEC Code of Ethics and the Joint (DEC/NAEYC) Position Statement on Inclusion: http://www.dec-sped.org/position-statements
• Engagement in ongoing professional development related to supporting children with diverse educational, social, and emotional needs.
The links provided in the December newsletter here lead to more information on each topic. Consider compiling some of this information into an Inclusive Environments binder that can be accessed by coworkers within your program!
As we move into the specific DEC Recommended Practices, you will notice that they focus on collaboration between practitioners and families. They are written to address a wide variety of needs – meaning that they will apply to all children, regardless of disability. They are also researched based and can be implemented in all environments.