Key Practices of Effective Early Childhood Inclusive Services

 

The ECC has partnered with IDOE to promote inclusion. Early childhood inclusive services can take place in a variety of regular early childhood settings (i.e. public school building, private or community setting, Head Start, home childcare setting). Across settings, when early childhood inclusive services are effective we can expect the following outcomes:

  • All children are engaged and learn
  • Collaborative partnerships occur between families, general and special educators
  • Children and families participate and are contributing members in the classroom and school communities

Effective inclusion begins with high expectations, evidenced-based instruction, and collaborative planning to individualize supports that should minimize the need for self-contained or pull-out services. There are six key practices of early childhood inclusive services:

  • Universally designed physical and learning environments
  • Classroom organization that promotes positive behavior
  • Special education services within routines-based instruction
  • Individualized or targeted instruction
  • Collaborative planning and progress monitoring
  • Family Engagement

A brief overview of each practice follows. A universally designed physical and learning environment is one in which all children access, participate and receive the appropriate supports to succeed in learning. Each child’s unique interests, strengths and needs guide the design of accessibility: physical, intellectual, linguistic, and social. For access to be meaningful to each child, they must be able to physically navigate the environment, be motivated and challenged to engage in the learning activities, find familiarity in the language used, and naturally participate with peers in all routines.

Well organized classrooms promote positive behaviors and emotional connections. These classrooms are predictable and provide multiple ways for children to understand, practice and remember routines, rules and expectations. In a well-organized classroom we would see children who know what is expected and sustain engagement with peers in activities. We would observe the adults in this classroom demonstrate flexible expectations for individual students (i.e., alternative activity choice when child is challenged with maintaining focus at a large group time). In addition, adults in this classroom consistently teach and model skills and work towards understanding the meaning of child behaviors.

In the inclusive classroom, the special educators and therapists provide their service within the routines and learning activities or via consultation and coaching. For instance, a speech therapist may do a large group activity embedding individual goals. To ensure all students have access to general education curriculum and to plan for variation of learner abilities, some strategies may be: mixed ability groups, varying the difficulty within an activity, or adjusting the time expectations for length of work.

Individualized or targeted instruction is appropriate for some children who need additional practice with emerging skills or who may need more frequent intensive instruction. These instructional practices are systematically implemented to teach a specific skill, i.e. social interactions, task completion. Either the general or special educator would implement these instructional strategies. These instructional strategies require more frequent data collection and analysis to evaluate and adjust instruction to enhance individualization.

Another key practice is collaborative planning which creates a commitment to: shared goals, mutual responsibility, valuing contributions equally, joint decision-making, and shared expertise and perspectives. Collaborative planning requires finding time to meet to plan lessons/activities, problem-solve (informal or formal, but regular), get to know the general education classroom schedule (routines-based services), and to evaluate progress and adjust instruction methods.

The last, but not least, of the key practice for effective preschool inclusive services is Family Engagement . Strong Family Engagement is a central outcome of effective preschool inclusive services. Although welcoming families into early childhood settings, including them in outcome development, and encouraging families to be involved in program activities are essential to connecting with families, it is the program efforts to build ongoing family partnerships that are correlated to strengthening family engagement (i.e., communicating with families regularly in a variety of formats, engaging family members in problem-solving to increase child outcomes, and sharing specific information that links classroom activities to child learning at home).

These six key practices support the belief that children with disabilities learn best within high quality regular education classrooms and within naturally occurring routines and activities with typical peers. In addition, these practices reflect research-based indicators of effective preschool inclusion: increased outcomes for both children with and without disabilities, value and recognition of the family as integral to program effectiveness, and all practitioners and school administrators share accountability for student success.


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