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Ideas for Inclusion in Natural Environments

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Many early childhood education programs today are inclusive, meaning that children with special needs are included in the regular classroom. In her book, Naturally Inclusive: Engaging Children of All Abilities Outdoors, Dr. Ruth Wilson explains that inclusion means far more than physical access or physical presence; true inclusion includes instructional and social integration as well.

At times, approaches to early intervention for children with disabilities tend to focus more on needs—especially in relation to areas of disability—than on the strengths and interests of the child. Instead, consider the whole child in the planning what is in the best interests of a child. Adaptations can be made to schedules, materials and/or equipment, the social and physical environment, the level of adult support, and in what is expected from the child. Consider the following examples of ways to adapt the classroom and teaching practices for children with special needs so teachers can focus on children’s strengths and interests:

For children with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges:

  • Provide extra structure for activities and use of materials, such as a defined physical space for activities and boundaries for use of materials, such as a tray for manipulating loose parts.
  • Allow reluctant children to observe group activities until they are ready to participate.
  • Schedule calming activities after vigorous play.
  • Provide extra support during transition times.
  • Maintain a consistent routine.

For children with hearing impairments:

  • Provide visual clues, such as pictures and gestures.
  • Combine demonstrations with verbal instructions.
  • Stay in the child’s visual field.
  • Be mindful of the fact that hearing aids not only amplify wanted sounds, such as speech information, but also environmental noise.

For children with visual impairments:

  • Provide more tactile and auditory experiences.
  • Use hand-over-hand guidance when necessary.
  • Place materials at the child’s level.
  • Provide boundaries, such as trays, boxes, and baskets, for loose materials.

For children with sensory and/or anxiety issues:

  • Bring a bucket of snow indoors, if playing with snow outdoors seems overwhelming.
  • Keep animals in an enclosed structure, such as a tank or cage for fish, birds, or turtles for observation.
  • Watch for signs of discomfort, especially in cold, hot, or rainy weather.

For children with motor difficulties:

  • Provide sufficient space for maneuvering a wheelchair and other special equipment.
  • Provide elevated working areas.
  • Use bolsters for floor activities.
  • Provide adaptive seating, as needed.
  • Allow extra time for completing tasks.
  • Provide larger wheels on walkers and wheelchairs for navigating sand, grass, and other bumpy or soft terrain.
  • Always ask a child before providing assistance.

For children with developmental delays:

  • Keep directions and explanations simple, organized, and sequenced.
  • Break down tasks and other activities into simple steps.