March 2021 Newsletter – Universal Design for Learning: Engagement

One focus of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is Engagement, or how learners are drawn to the work of learning. According to the research, children approach learning differently, preferring to work in different ways. For this reason, educators need to offer a variety of ways for learners to become engaged with materials and content. In early childhood education, that can look like this:

  • Offer children choices and promote independence. Within the lesson plan, project, or theme, children should be offered multiple ways to connect with the material they are exploring. Opportunities for choices include:
    • The learning center they want to explore
    • How long they spend engaged with materials
    • The art materials they want to use to create a work of art
    • Whether to play alone or with a group
    • How much support they need from adults
  • Involve children in the unit planning process. When educators employ project-based learning, they are essentially building the unit or theme with the children. These projects not only relate directly to the interests of the children in the group, they include many different opportunities for children to participate in the unit in different ways. CCEI has a course that explores project-based learning called CUR118: Outdoor STEAM Activities and Project-Based Learning that you can take to learn more.
  • Work with children to identify and set goals. This is a strategy to use with older children who can communicate with you about potential goals. However, it is never too young to talk with children about the skills you notice and the next steps they could take. You could have this conversation with a child who is showing signs of rolling from their tummy to their back. You could even talk to a child about the next steps they need to take as they practice walking. For older children, you might have a goal-setting conversation about shoe tying, expressing emotions safely, or climbing to the top of the playground structure. This practice helps children see their role in the learning process, encourages reflection, and builds confidence.
  • Introduce topics that are relevant to children’s lives. Consider culture, age, interests, and abilities when making decisions about topics to explore. Pay close attention to children and what is happening in their world to ensure topics are significant to the children. During the first snowstorm of the year, you might postpone what you had planned so that you might capture children’s interest and excitement about the snow.
  • Provide authentic experiences. Rather than just talking about recycling, create a recycling program. Rather than just talking about butterflies, plant a butterfly garden. Work to solve real problems and address real issues whenever possible.
  • Create a safe and predictable learning environment. Create a space that children can truly settle into. Follow a predictable schedule, provide advanced warnings of changes in the routine, and plan smooth transitions. You may want to create space for children to go to take time away from the large group and teach strategies so children have safe ways to express themselves to others. Encourage children to listen to one another and show respect when needs are communicated.

These are just a few ways that UDL can be adapted for an early learning environment.  Follow this link to read all of the UDL Guidelines on Engagement.

For the main article Universal Design for Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Representation, CLICK HERE

For the article Action & Expression, CLICK HERE

For the article UDL with Adults, CLICK HERE