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Inclusive early childhood education has been a matter of extensive research in recent decades. There are various practices and strategies that allow educators to provide training and instruction to disabled children in an inclusive classroom. However, a lack of understanding, research, and discussion has translated into the use of inefficient strategies and the existence of certain biases. Even the term itself has not been defined properly, which has led to considerable confusion in the educational sphere (Early childhood inclusion, 2009). This paper dwells upon the major principles of inclusive early childhood education as well as some barriers to its successful implementation. Some recommendations are also included.
Inclusive education has quite a short history. The first case of such education was recorded in the early 1800s when a French physician developed a training program for a homeless boy who was regarded a “hopeless idiot” (Deiner, 2012, p. 3). The physician managed to help the boy acquire certain skills, which enabled him to perform some tasks independently and become a member of the community. At that time, children with disabilities were placed in separate educational establishments, as it was believed that they needed specific training and instruction that would disrupt the education of the rest of the class.
In the 1960s, educators began the movement towards normalization, an approach that calls for “special services” to be provided in a natural environment—in other words, in a setting as close as possible to the one developed for children without disabilities (Deiner, 2012, p. 3).
The normalization movement corresponded with society’s increasing advocacy for the rights of disabled people. Notably, financial factors also had a significant impact on the development of the inclusive educational approach. The lack of resources and reduction of funding led to the decision to include children with disabilities in general schools, as the opening of new facilities for disabled students was a heavy load for U.S. taxpayers. Clearly, the movement for the rights of disabled people was central to the development of the primary principles of inclusive education and its implementation.
Principles of Modern Inclusive Education
Modern educational practices are regarded as efficient, and inclusion is seen as an effective strategy that benefits all groups of students (Deiner, 2012). To understand and consider the major principles of inclusive early childhood education, it is first vital to provide a definition of the term. Catlett (2009, p. 2) defines early childhood inclusion as a set of “values, policies, and practices” ensuring the right of children and their families “regardless of ability” to take part in a “broad range of activities… as full members of families, communities, and society.” This approach is associated with three major aspects and several guiding principles.
The three aspects mentioned above include participation, access, and support. Access involves removing potential barriers and providing a broad scope of activities and settings in which all children may participate, irrespective of their individual abilities (Catlett, 2009). Participation implies the utilization of various instructional methods and approaches to encourage engagement in activities and “a sense of belonging” among all children (Catlett, 2009, p. 2). Finally, the aspect of support is associated with policies, incentives, and professional development designed to improve communication and collaboration between educators and the community.
The principles of effective early childhood inclusion involve the creation of high expectations for all children (irrespective of their abilities) to achieve their full potential. Another principle is associated with the development of the philosophy of inclusion and the establishment of policies, practices, and support systems consistent with this philosophy (Catlett, 2009). The principles also include continuous revision and improvement of programs and professional standards, as well as ongoing professional development for educators. Catlett (2009) adds that inclusion should have an impact on state and federal standards, which will positively affect the enrollment of disabled people in schools nationwide.
It is necessary to note that some of these principles are employed in different educational establishments. Underwood (2013) provides examples of effective implementation of programs aimed at early childhood development. The researcher states that many families have benefited from various programs and incentives available in their communities, which reveals the effectiveness of the approach.
Views of Parents of Children Without Disabilities
Unfortunately, inclusive educational practices are not always welcomed or understood by parents of children without disabilities. In many cases, this group of stakeholders is quite hostile to the inclusive education paradigm. Stark, Gordon-Burns, Purdue, Rarere-Briggs, and Turnock (2011) state that parents of children without disabilities often have a negative view concerning disabled children as well as their inclusion in the general classroom setting. Stark et al. (2011) add that negative attitudes are often a result of teachers who improperly label disabled children and employ inappropriate methods in the classroom.
Some parents share the belief that the inclusion of disabled people is not beneficial and is sometimes even harmful for both children with and without disabilities (Stark et al., 2011). Many still believe that disabled children cannot participate in many or even a majority of activities due to their special needs. Some parents think that the classroom environment can be dangerous for children with some types of disabilities.
Moreover, many parents, as well as educators, find it nearly impossible to make sure that all children receive the necessary attention and are able to achieve the established academic goals. Stark et al. (2011) stress that the lack of information and discussion of the matter leads to the persistence of the exclusion approach in many communities. There is still a lot of confusion concerning inclusive early childhood development, which contributes to the development of hostile attitudes towards this approach.
To change people’s perspectives and address various issues associated with the implementation of the inclusive approach, researchers and practitioners have developed various recommendations that could improve the situation and create the necessary foundation for a truly inclusive educational system. The recommendations are deeply rooted in the principles mentioned above. Nylander (2009) describes some important aspects of an efficient and comprehensive inclusive early childhood program that can be reframed into specific recommendations for educational establishments and policymakers, as well as other stakeholders such as parents and students.
First, every facility should make sure that the programs offered to disabled children are based on a sound philosophy and have a mission. A research-based curriculum, as well as team planning, should be the basis of the program. It is also vital to ensure that all educators involved have an “inclusive attitude and spirit” (Nylander, 2009, p. 6). The educational facility should have a comprehensive system aimed at the enhancing family engagement since effective communication and collaboration among all stakeholders are of paramount importance. The educational facility should also make sure that it provides the tools, equipment, and materials necessary for the inclusive education program.
Finally, ongoing professional development for educators is key to the success of the inclusive educational paradigm. To facilitate better understanding among all stakeholders, educators and policymakers should strive to get the necessary coverage in the media and to engage stakeholders in a discussion of the peculiarities and benefits of, as well as barriers to, the successful implementation of inclusive early childhood education.
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Inclusive early childhood education has become common nationwide, as more and more educational establishments offer various programs that provide educational opportunities to disabled children. The focus is made on the communication and collaboration among the stakeholders. Although inclusive education still faces certain hostility and misunderstanding due to the lack of research and communication, it is also clear that people’s attitudes can be changed through extensive research, sound planning, and proper implementation of inclusive early childhood education programs.
Researchers have developed a number of recommendations aimed at improving the quality of inclusive programs. These recommendations include the development of a proper knowledge base and communication channels, evidence-based planning, the use of proper equipment, and ongoing professional development of educators. Clearly, it is also essential to continue the debate concerning inclusive early childhood education, which will shape the public opinion on the matter. The media will play a central role in this process, and people will soon understand the benefits of the inclusive approach.
Catlett, C. (2009). What do we mean by “early childhood inclusion”? Finding a shared definition. Impact, 22(1), 2-3. Web.
Deiner, P. (2012). Inclusive early childhood education: Development, resources, and practice. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Early childhood inclusion. (2009). Web.
Nylander, D. (2009). Quality inclusive early childhood programs: 10 things to look for. Impact, 22(1), 6-7, 35. Web.
Stark, R., Gordon-Burns, D., Purdue, K., Rarere-Briggs, B., & Turnock, K. (2011). Other parents’ perceptions of disability and inclusion in early childhood education: Implications for the Teachers’ Role in Creating Inclusive Communities. He Kupu: The World, 1, 4-18. Web.
Underwood, K. (2013). Everyone is welcome: Inclusive early childhood education and care. Web.