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Inclusion Starts at Preschool

written by: Sharon Dominica • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 1/5/2012

Inclusion is an attitude that needs to be taught early in life. Teaching inclusion in preschool is the best way to start. Here are some ideas for your preschool classroom to promote and introduce inclusion.

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    Inclusion means to accept people and include them no matter how different they are. It means to be sensitive to their needs and difficulties. It means to be patient and sometimes wait a little longer for someone who is slower than you. It means to choose a game or activity in which everyone can play and participate. It means to make everyone feel loved and accepted just the way they are.

    Inclusion is difficult, even for adults. It’s more than just rules, or environmental adaptations. It’s an attitude. That’s why we don't need to be adults to understand inclusion. Inclusion starts right at preschool. Teaching inclusion in preschool will help children grow up to be better adults and citizens of tomorrow.

    Here are some creative ideas you can use to introduce the concept of inclusion in preschool. Some are things you can do if you have a child with a disability in the classroom. Others are things you can do with your preschool class even if none of them have any disabilities.

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    Roleplay and Pretend Play

    Play is an important tool in preschool learning. Children at this stage start developing pretend play. Direct pretend play by including a wheelchair, crutches etc into their pretend play area. You can also make dolls and toys with injuries or disabilities.

    During pretend play, you could suggest scenarios and scenes they can act out that include a person with a disability. You can pretend to be a child on a wheelchair and help them understand more about inclusion. You can also help the children understand what it is not to be able to walk or see, by giving them a wheelchair and asking them to join in a tag game with the other children, and so on. You could also play games in the class where you have to do things with just one hand, or blindfolded, or with their legs tied up.

    If you follow these with a discussion, it will help the children understand what it feels like to have a disability.

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    Stories are a great way to open the eyes of a child to a world that they have not experienced. Pick up stories of children with disabilities to read with the class. Show pictures, ask questions and use this as an opportunity to share more about disability and how we need to include and accept people with disabilities.

    If you have a child with a disability in your classroom, and there are issues of exclusion, teasing or bullying among the children, you can make up short stories and scenarios to facilitate discussion and conversation among the children.

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    Elaborate on Strengths

    Help your children understand that each person has strengths and weaknesses. Make it a habit to emphasize on each child's strengths. Even within a regular classroom there are children with varying levels of ability. Help children understand and accept themselves as unique and special just the way they are. If you have a child with a disability in your class, help the class know and understand his abilities too.

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    Field Visits

    Field visits are another great way to help children understand more about disability and inclusion. Some suggestions are taking the class to the child's physiotherapist, or home, taking the children to a rehabilitation center, taking them to visit a person with a disability who is working at his workplace. You could also take the children to visit another school classroom where they are practicing inclusive education.

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    Modified Lesson Plans

    When you have a child with a disability in the classroom, you will need to modify your lesson plans. Make sure that every child in your classroom has an equal opportunity to participate in the activities. When the children see you as a teacher, making an effort to include the child with a disability, they will too make that effort.

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    Inclusion in Responsibilities

    Roles and responsibilities are an important part of classroom life. Children love to do small chores in the classroom like picking up books, putting back toys or cleaning the table. Sometimes, when we have a child with a disability in the classroom, we tend to care for him and don't give him equal responsibilities in the classroom. This leads to a child feeling excluded. So pick a particular responsibility that this child can do independently, no matter how small the job is.

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    Inclusion in Communication

    Some children with disabilities may use special techniques for communication. They may use sign language, or some gestures, or a picture board. Usually, helping the teacher to understand the child's communication is focused on. However, this is not enough. It is equally important that other children learn to understand and communicate with the special needs child in their classroom. Learning sign language can be made a fun activity for the whole classroom.

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    Assigning a classroom buddy for a child with a disability can be helpful in many ways. It will decrease your load as a teacher; it will be nicer for the special needs child if the teacher is not always next to him. It will also be a learning experience for the child who is the buddy. The classroom buddy will be responsible for helping the child with class work and classroom activities.

    If the child has any medical problems, the buddy can also be responsible for alerting the teacher if he is not doing well. You can change the classroom buddy every month to help all the children feel equally responsible to care for the child. Just a precaution, make sure that the child with special needs stays as independent as possible and does not get dependent on the classroom buddy.

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    Inclusion is an attitude that can be taught right at preschool. Children who learn inclusion early in life grow up to be adults who accept and integrate people with disabilities. Keep this in mind. Teaching inclusion in preschool is not just something that will benefit the child with special needs, it’s something that is going to benefit and change your entire class, and even you. Continue reading here at Bright Hub for more about inclusion strategies.