You’ve likely heard of and your child’s preschool probably practices inclusive early childhood education. Three local educators help us understand it better and how it benefits not just kids in the classroom but their families, too.

Q: What is inclusive early childhood education?
A: It’s a diverse representation of students and families in our learning environment – the preschool classroom. “Inclusive” means that a child with a disability and a typically developing child, another that has language needs, others experiencing poverty, ALL kids have the same opportunity to participate in the same learning environment. I strongly believe in the power of that and the value of young kids learning uniqueness by bringing different people together in a single, diverse learning environment. In our district, we staff appropriately for this. Our staffing model staffs for kids across the spectrum of development and academic needs. Each classroom has an early childhood special education teacher and a paraprofessional, sometimes two. – Kimberly Bloemen, MA, Ed.S, Executive Director, Early Childhood Education, Boulder Valley School District

Q: Does this model of learning positively affect kids’ families?
A: According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Division for Early Childhood, early childhood inclusion embodies the values, policies and practices that support the right of every infant and young child and his or her 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. The defining features of inclusion that can be used to identify high quality early childhood programs and services are access, participation and support. This benefits all students by creating opportunities where students can reach their highest potential from an early age.
We focus on creating a preschool model that creates these experiences for all families to the best extent possible. – Laura Hess, Executive Director of Special Education for St. Vrain Valley Schools

Q: Does inclusive early childhood education benefit kids in specific situations or all kids in the classroom?
A: Inclusive early childhood education is meant to improve outcomes for ALL children, whether they have special needs or are typically developing. At TLC, we carefully cultivate class rosters so that there is a diverse group of backgrounds and abilities in each classroom. Children with special needs benefit from being in classrooms with typical children and research shows that typical kids who spend their formative years learning alongside peers with disabilities helps improve not only their cognitive outcomes, but their social-emotional growth, as well. Learning to work with people that are different from oneself is a vital part of human development and we believe that the inclusion model helps all kids foster compassion, empathy, and communication skills that will serve them well as they progress through their academic years and beyond. At TLC, we believe that inclusion is the best way for kids to learn how to be outstanding students AND caring, compassionate members of their community. We believe that inclusive learning supports our mission statement of nurturing success in ALL children and helping them all reach their fullest potential. – Amy French-Troy, Development and Communications Coordinator, TLC Learning Center

By Darren Thornberry for Raised in the Rockies