All children, regardless of ability or circumstances, should feel welcome in their classrooms. Inclusive classrooms allow children with disabilities to learn alongside their non-disabled peers. They also present an opportunity for all children to learn from each other and to develop a more compassionate attitude toward people with disabilities.
Understanding what an inclusive classroom looks like and how to create one is essential for educators who want to provide the best possible education for all children. This guide will give an overview of inclusive classrooms and offer practical tips for creating an inclusive classroom environment.
What is an inclusive classroom?
An inclusive classroom is where children with disabilities learn alongside children without disabilities in the same space. It provides a setting in which all children feel welcome, supported, and valued.
Inclusive classrooms provide an environment where all preschoolers can learn and succeed. They are based on the belief that all children have the right to quality education and promote values of equality, respect and belonging. All children should feel that they are an equal part of the class and that their individual needs are being considered and met.
Why is an inclusive classroom important?
Creating an inclusive classroom requires everyone to be open-minded and respectful of others. It takes effort and commitment from both educators and children. However, the rewards are well worth the effort. Inclusive classrooms:
Meet the needs of all learners
All children learn in different ways and at different paces, and in an inclusive classroom, teachers tailor their teaching approach to meet the unique needs of each child. Teachers may introduce strategies specifically designed to help children who need extra support in the classroom, but those additional resources and support can benefit all children. Teachers might incorporate different tools, materials, or visual aids to engage all learners, or utilize small group instruction to address each child’s learning style.
Inclusive classrooms promote values of diversity, equity and inclusion. Children get the opportunity to learn about what they have in common with one another and celebrate each other’s differences. Exposure to an environment that respects and accepts different abilities helps fight bias and stereotypes and teaches children to value what makes us all unique.
Foster social-emotional skills
When children interact with each other in an inclusive classroom, they develop essential social and emotional skills, including communication, cooperation, and conflict resolution. Learning alongside their peers who are different from them allows children to learn important social skills to support and help others who may be differently abled. Teachers can use an inclusive classroom as a way to reinforce concepts such as empathy, compassion, and treating others with respect.
How to create an inclusive classroom
An inclusive classroom places the needs of all children at the forefront. To create a truly inclusive environment, educators must be aware of their own biases and assumptions and the potential barriers that can exclude certain groups of children.
Here are strategies for creating an inclusive classroom:
A classroom's layout should be adapted to create a more inclusive physical space. Classrooms should be organized in a way that reflects the various activities throughout the day so children know what is expected of them in each area. For example, furniture arranged in groups can encourage collaboration and communication or smaller, quiet areas can be used for individual work. Provide a variety of seating options in the classroom to accommodate different needs. For example, use bean bag chairs in the calm down corner, or floor cushions or mats for circle time.
All children should be able to clearly see the teacher and learning materials. Those children with additional needs might need to sit closer to the teacher to ensure they are receiving the proper support throughout the lesson.
Classroom rules and routines
Establish a daily routine for your classroom so children know what to expect each day. A predictable preschool schedule can reduce challenging behavior, creating a better learning environment for all. Make clear, concise, and age-appropriate classroom rules and review them with children regularly so they know what behavior is expected of them. Guidelines like “Be respectful and kind” reinforce important, prosocial behaviors.
Consider changing up your group size for different lessons. Have children complete work in pairs, small groups, or independently. Smaller group sizes can allow you to tailor instruction to the individual needs of each preschooler.
Developmentally appropriate materials
Use a variety of manipulatives and hands-on materials in your activities to support all children’s learning styles and various levels of development. The hands-on supplies will encourage active participation and best support those children that learn through doing and moving.
An inclusive classroom will also challenge educators to incorporate different ways of teaching a lesson to reach all children. For example, use books, music, props, posters, videos, and charts. You can also find ways to modify or adjust your activities to engage all children. For example, if a child is having trouble sitting still during story time, you could give the student a story-related coloring page to work on as they listen to the story.
Visual learning aids
Visual learning aids such as visual schedules, charts, posters, and flash cards will help those children who are visual learners. Visuals can help children understand concepts better and improve engagement in the learning process. Visual cues, such as placing pictures of children performing their end-of-day routine by the classroom door, can help with smooth transitions.
Take advantage of assistive technology and tools available that can help support children as they master essential skills. These can be simple tools such as pencil grips, laminated picture boards, or high-contrast colored paper and pens, or technology based tools such as apps for devices that “speak” words a child selects on the screen or software that makes books more interactive.
Model inclusive behavior
Young children tend to mirror the behavior and attitudes they witness so model respect and empathy to instill values of inclusion. Use inclusive language and display curiosity and a willingness to learn about different cultures and abilities.
To further support your children’s growth and development at each stage, download our list of activity ideas promoting language, sensory, social-emotional, cognitive, and physical development.
Examples of inclusion in the classroom
Here are some scenarios that might arise in a preschool classroom, along with some possible solutions to make your classroom more inclusive:
A child with a hearing impairment is having difficulty following along in class.
- Seat the child near the front of the classroom, where they can see the teacher's face.
- Use visual aids, such as posters or hand gestures, to supplement verbal instructions.
A preschooler with autism struggles with transitioning from one activity to the next.
- Use a visual schedule to help the child know what's coming next.
- Add auditory cues such as a bell or alarm to signal that it’s time for a new activity.
A child has difficulty participating in fine motor activities.
- Add grips to crayons or markers or provide larger sized writing instruments.
- Use larger-lined paper.
A child is struggling to verbally communicate their needs.
- Use picture cards or other visual aids to help the child express themselves.
- Encourage the use of sign language or assistive communication devices or apps.
A preschooler is having trouble sitting still during circle time.
- Allow the child to stand or turn the pages of the book as you read.
- Provide fidget toys or other objects to help the preschooler stay focused.
A child feels overwhelmed by all the noise and commotion in the classroom.
- Designate a quiet area in the classroom for children to go if they need a break.
- Suggest noise blocking headphones that can help mute a noisy environment.
- Help them identify coping strategies when they feel overwhelmed, such as deep breathing exercises.
Inclusive classrooms not only benefit children with disabilities, they also offer valuable learning experiences to those without disabilities. When educators create inclusive classrooms, they adapt lessons and materials to suit all ways of learning, set a positive example of compassion and acceptance, and provide opportunities for all children to learn and grow.
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