Quality programs provide nurturing, developmentally appropriate environments where children can grow and learn. All children benefit from participating in programs that emphasize being responsive to individual strengths and needs, a hallmark feature of inclusive practices.
Definition and Benefits
Inclusion embodies the values, policies, and practices that support the right of every child and their family, regardless of ability, to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of families, communities, and society. The desired results of inclusive experiences for children, with and without disabilities, and their families include a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning to reach their full potential. Access, participation, and support are the defining features of inclusion often used to identify high-quality child care and education programs. (Adapted from: DEC/NAEYC. . Early childhood inclusion: A joint position statement of the Division for Early Childhood [DEC] and the National Association for the Education of Young Children [NAEYC]. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute.)
In an inclusive program, children with and without disabilities can access the same routines, play, and learning experiences. Providers in inclusive programs learn to recognize children as individuals with unique strengths, needs, abilities, and interests. They continually make creative accommodations and modifications to routines, play, and learning activities so that each child benefits from participation.
In addition to provisions addressing access and participation, an infrastructure of systems-level support must be in place within a program to reinforce the providers’ efforts in caring for and teaching children with a wide range of needs.
The Maryland State Department of Education is dedicated to making high-quality child care and education programs accessible to all children. Therefore, Maryland EXCELS directly incorporates quality aspects related to inclusion.
- Promote open lines of communication and collaboration among all partners and stakeholders involved in children’s lives, including working with early intervention or special education service providers to support positive child and family outcomes;
- Have written policies on their philosophy or mission and practices regarding the inclusion of children with disabilities, special health care needs, challenging behaviors, or all mentioned;
- Make specific professional development efforts to increase provider preparedness to care for children with diverse needs;
- Employ developmentally- and age-appropriate practices that are responsive to children’s individual needs; and
- Monitor each child’s progress using valid and reliable developmental screening and assessment methods, and share this information with families.
What are the benefits of inclusion?
Children who participate in inclusive care and education programs benefit by:
- Experiencing a sense of belonging and community;
- Developing friendships with a diverse range of children;
- Learning from other children through modeling and interactions;
- Developing sensitivity and understanding for and of people’s differences; and
- Having positive self-concepts.
Providers who adopt and implement inclusive policies and practices benefit by:
- Improving knowledge of child development;
- Learning about helpful resources and services;
- Enhancing relationships with families and community partners;
- Understanding and valuing individual differences; and
- Strengthening their reputation in the community by demonstrating a belief in equality.
What are accommodations?
Accommodations are changes in how a child receives support in accessing information and participating in routine, play, and/or learning experiences with other children. Accommodations do not substantially change an activity’s content, materials, or performance criteria.
Accommodations can include changes in the following:
- Presentation format
- Child response requirements/expectations
What are modifications?
Modifications are changes made to what a child is experiencing. Modifications ensure a child has equal opportunities to participate meaningfully and productively with other children in routine, play, and learning experiences or in all three areas. However, the expected outcome of their participation is different.
Modifications include changes in the following:
- Level of difficulty
- Performance criteria
Professional Development and Technical Assistance
Providers may be concerned if they possess the necessary knowledge and skills to work with children with disabilities and other special needs. Accessing and utilizing appropriate information and training is essential to addressing such concerns. Parents and family members are a primary source of information regarding how to best care for and support their children in care and education settings. Various professional development opportunities and resources are also available to help prepare providers to work with children with diverse needs. Your MSDE Quality Assurance Specialist (QAS) or the Maryland Family Network can assist programs with locating professional development and technical assistance opportunities.