Easter Seals is the largest provider of inclusive learning in the country. What exactly does inclusive instruction mean, though?
Inclusive instruction means recognizing, accommodating, and meeting the learning needs of all students. It means acknowledging that all students have a range of individual learning needs and are members of diverse communities. Most importantly, inclusive teaching avoids pigeonholing students into specific groups with predictable and fixed approaches to learning.
ESNG introduced inclusive learning at our child development centers back in 1992. The innovative program soon became a model for the state of Georgia. Today, we educate and care for 1,503 children, 30% of whom have a disability. We have partnered with Atlanta Public Schools (APS) to offer children with disabilities an inclusive learning environment. There are five collaborative classrooms in our Guice and Sylvan Hills centers with two APS special education teachers and two ESNG teachers.
What are the benefits of inclusive learning?
Children learn from each other.
Clearly, the children do not know their friends have special needs or require any accommodations. They just see their friends. Children with special needs see typically developing children following directions, singing, dancing, and talking. It becomes a part of their everyday activity and soon will follow those behaviors.
Children learn to be leaders.
Children with special needs and typically developing children have classroom jobs. They set and clear tables, lead lines, and clean up together. One teacher says, “This year, Kayla has really become a leader. She was in the program last year and knows exactly what to do. She loves setting the table and telling her friends that lunch is ready. I can definitely tell that her confidence has improved remarkably since last year.”
Children learn from structure.
We encourage families to keep their children in the program for multiple years to get the most out of it. One of the reasons is because children thrive from structure, especially kids with special needs. They know what to expect and what is expected of them. A teacher told me, “Caleb used to throw his toys when it was time to clean up. It took him a couple of months to get used to the schedule, but he got it. Now, he hears the clean up song, grabs the toy bin and puts the toys away.”
Children learn from play.
That is to say, though, it’s not fun and playful. Children with disabilities – just like children without disabilities – learn from running, throwing, and dancing. Children with low muscle tone can gain strengthen by running on the playground. Children with sensory issues can get used to different textures in a sandbox. And, music helps children with behavioral issues learn to follow directions.
Children learn empathy.
One of the beauties of childhood is they often don’t see the differences in people. Children in inclusive classrooms see children in wheelchairs and know that they cannot use their legs. Teachers and kids talk about it and kids know that they need to help their friends who need it. Four-year-old children may not know the importance of what they are learning now, but as they meet people with different abilities and thoughts, they will know how to help.
The benefits of inclusive learning. One family’s story – http://www.easterseals.com/our-programs/childrens-services/the-benefits-of-inclusive-childcare-for-all-children.html