Parents and teachers know that no two children learn the exact same way. Naturally, developing children will have different preferences for engaging with their learning. However, children with special needs may require additional, differing levels of support within the classroom.
With so many needs and learning styles to manage, how can early childhood education (ECE) professionals meet the needs of all the children in their classrooms so that every child receives the education they deserve? Inclusive education is one solution to this dilemma.
What is inclusive education? Put simply, it’s the practice of providing high-quality education to students with special needs or disabilities within the same classroom settings as their peers.
Inclusive education sounds like a great idea, but it’s not always easy to bring this educational ideal to life. We researched ECE best practices to bring you this deep dive on inclusive education.
What is inclusive education?
A joint position statement by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)® and the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) defines inclusive education as “the values, policies and practices that support the right of every infant and young child[,] ... regardless of ability, to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of families, communities and society.”1
That sounds like a mouthful, but all it really means is that children of all abilities have the right to be fully included in a regular classroom, not shunted to the side because their developments or abilities aren’t the same as their peers.
Dr. Jen Newton, cofounder of Teaching Is Intellectual, puts it this way: “Inclusive education, in the truest sense, is all children experiencing belonging and community in a typical early childhood setting.”
Inclusive education stands in contrast to special education programs of the past, in which students left their regular classrooms—sometimes for most, if not all, of the school day—to attend class in a separate environment. Legislation in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) changed this practice and “protects children’s rights to attend school alongside their peers without disabilities,” according to NAEYC.2
In an inclusive classroom, students with special needs receive an Individual Education Plan (IEP) tailored to their unique learning goals. Teachers, parents and other specialists can then work together to ensure that the students’ IEP requirements are being met from within the classroom. Although some students may still leave the classroom for certain therapies or one-on-one tutoring, it is for much less time than what was typical in years past.
The benefits of inclusive education
The NAEYC/DEC position statement doesn’t stop at defining inclusive education. It also presents the goals of this educational practice. When inclusive education is successful, both typically developing children and those with disabilities experience positive results, like a strong sense of belonging, connected relationships and development to reach their full potentials.1
“All children—and adults—benefit from inclusive learning opportunities,” Newton says. “In inclusive classrooms, we see an increase in empathy, in friendships, in differentiated instruction and in the development of a positive sense of self.”
Attending an inclusive classroom can be children’s first introduction to people who are different from them, which teaches children to value those who aren’t like them and to stop the spread of ableist biases.
The benefits of inclusive education become even clearer when you look specifically at children who have special needs. The Indiana Inclusion Study found that students with disabilities who spend high amounts of time in an inclusive classroom score better in both reading and math than those who are placed in separate special education classrooms.3
What inclusive education looks like in the classroom
Teachers have several strategies available to help them create an inclusive environment:
- Following the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. These scientifically based guidelines were created to optimize teaching to the ways humans learn best.
- Providing multisensory learning opportunities. Young children of all abilities are wired to learn best when they’re actively interacting with materials. Rather than printing worksheets or expecting all students to sit still during lessons, create activities that allow children to have a more hands-on experience incorporating as many senses as possible.
- Offering adaptations for activities so that children of all abilities can fully participate in games, crafts and lessons.
- Creating different learning opportunities to teach the same concept so that children who learn in different ways will be able to absorb new ideas.
In the end, the two most important steps teachers can take to promote an inclusive classroom involve mindset. “The two biggest strategies are to presume competence in all learners and hold high expectations for all children in an inclusive setting,” Newton says.
Teachers who approach all students with respect for their abilities and the desire to help them reach their potentials are already well on their way to promoting inclusive education.
The fight to establish inclusive education
Despite the clear benefits to inclusive education, this practice isn’t always the norm in the U.S. education system. “Only about one-third of children ages zero to five are in inclusive settings full time,” Newton says. “Because of early childhood funding models, children with disabilities are often accessing early childhood environments without nondisabled peers.”
In a nutshell, this means that school districts’ funding and budget operations often lag behind the research and are still providing for children to receive special education the old-fashioned way, rather than progressing to the more successful inclusive education model.
ECE professionals are uniquely positioned to advocate for their students. Where parents may not know about inclusive education options or be unsure about whom to contact in their school district, teachers can take the first step by talking to directors or administrators about the evidence-based benefits of inclusive education.
The NAEYC/DEC position statement advises teachers to start by defining their program’s inclusion philosophy so that all teachers and staff are on the same page about inclusive education.1 From there, they can work with program leaders to revise their inclusivity standards, advocate for change within their school system and potentially even hold state and federal leaders accountable for making inclusive education a reality for children across the country.
Making the classroom a learning environment for every child
What is inclusive education? It’s an approach to teaching that views children of all abilities as worthy of a high-quality education.
If you’re feeling the pull toward the ECE field, you could be one of the next teachers to advocate for and provide inclusive education. But first, you’ll want to have the right education and training yourself. Learn more with our article “What Can I Do with an Early Childhood Education Degree?”
1 NAEYC and DEC, joint position statement, “Early Childhood Inclusion,” [accessed March, 2021] https://www.naeyc.org/sites/default/files/globally-shared/downloads/PDFs/resources/position-statements/DEC_NAEYC_EC_updatedKS.pdf
2 NAEYC, “The Power of Inclusion: What to Expect When Your Preschooler Attends an Inclusive Preschool Program,” [March, 2021] https://www.naeyc.org/our-work/families/inclusion-preschool-program
3 Indiana University, “A Longitudinal Study to Determine the Impact of Inclusion on Student Academic Outcomes,” [accessed March, 2021] https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/cell/what-we-do/pdf/Inclusion-study-handout.pdf
NAEYC is a registered trademark of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
The Early Childhood Education programs at Rasmussen University are not accredited by the NAEYC Commission on Early Childhood Associate Degree Accreditation. Rasmussen University is not a partner of NAEYC and our programs are not sponsored or endorsed by NAEYC.
Graduates of Early Childhood Education programs at Rasmussen University are not eligible for licensure as a teacher in an elementary or secondary school. A Bachelor’s degree and a state teaching license are typically required to work as a teacher in a public school and some private school settings. States, municipalities, districts or individual schools may have more stringent licensing requirements. Students must determine the licensure requirements in the state and school in which they intend to work.
Childcare facilities and the states in which they are located establish qualifications for staff who work with children and often implement guidelines regarding age, education, experience and professional development. Students must determine the licensure requirements for the state and facilities in which they work.
This program has not been approved by any state professional licensing body, and this program is not intended to lead to any state-issued professional license. For further information on professional licensing requirements, please contact the appropriate board or agency in your state of residence.
Inclusion is the practice of educating and caring for children with disabilities in the same environment or setting as their typically developing peers. In an inclusive program, children with and without disabilities learn and participate in the same daily activities and routines.What is the introduction of an inclusive? ›
Inclusion is valuing all people. Inclusion is the culture that enables the individuals in your organisation to come to work feeling comfortable and confident to be themselves, working in a way that suits them and delivers your business needs.What's the meaning of inclusive education? ›
Inclusive education means all children in the same classrooms, in the same schools. It means real learning opportunities for groups who have traditionally been excluded – not only children with disabilities, but speakers of minority languages too.What is inclusive learning and teaching and why is it important? ›
What do we mean by inclusive teaching and learning? “Inclusive learning and teaching recognises all student's entitlement to a learning experience that respects diversity, enables participation, removes barriers and anticipates and considers a variety of learning needs and preferences.”Why is inclusive education important in early childhood? ›
Inclusive environments recognise the diverse ages, interests, preferences, abilities and learning styles of all children and can help: promote children's learning, development, and engagement • ensure a sense of belonging • foster positive social relationships.Why do we need inclusion in early childhood education? ›
Inclusive learning environments help develop positive self-images, friendship and social skills, problem-solving, and respect for others. Most young children have not yet been exposed to stereotypes attached to people with visible and invisible disabilities.What is inclusive in your own words? ›
In short, the meaning of inclusive is that everyone, regardless of their mental or physical abilities is understood, appreciated, and able to participate and contribute meaningfully.What is the best definition of inclusive? ›
The dictionary definition of inclusive is simply something that doesn't leave any person, part or group out. In other words, something is inclusive if it doesn't exclude a person, a part or a group of people.What is inclusiveness short answer? ›
/ɪnˈkluː.sɪv.nəs/ the quality of including many different types of people and treating them all fairly and equally: The Department embraces inclusiveness and diversity.What is inclusive education and examples? ›
An inclusive classrooms features students of all learning styles and ability levels. For example, an inclusive classroom could have a mix of gifted students, auditory learners, visual learners and students with disabilities such as ADHD, students who are in wheelchairs, and students with executive functioning issues.
Inclusive education is concerned with the education and accommodation of ALL children in society, regardless of their physical, intellectual, social, or linguistic deficits. Inclusion should also include children from disadvantaged groups, of all races and cultures as well as the gifted and the disabled (UNESCO, 2003).Why is inclusive is important? ›
When people feel included they are better able to contribute to the group and their society without fear of being ostracised. By bringing their ideas forward, they are offering a particular perspective, which stems from a completely different background.How important is inclusive education? ›
The goal of an inclusive classroom is to provide all students with an appropriate learning environment to allow each the opportunity to reach their potential. Every student can reach their full potential when they are given the opportunity, resources and teaching that suits their needs.Which skill is most important in teaching inclusive education? ›
Since inclusion special education teachers benefit from having skills like special education, classroom management, and student learning, we found courses that will help you improve these skills.What are the benefits of inclusive learning? ›
- Respects the diversity of students.
- Enables all students to take part in learning and reach their full potential.
- Ensures different students' learning needs are met, regardless of their background, abilities or learning style.
- Removes barriers that prevents a student from learning.
Inclusive education (when practiced well) is very important because: All children are able to be part of their community and develop a sense of belonging and become better prepared for life in the community as children and adults. It provides better opportunities for learning.What are the benefits of inclusion in early childhood education and care to the educator? ›
Inclusion aims to value difference, recognise and value children's rights and experiences, ensure equitable access to resources and participation for all children, and provide opportunities for all children to demonstrate their learning.Why is it called inclusive? ›
Call something inclusive when it's designed or inclined to include. An exclusive club might let you in, but an inclusive one will ask you to join, no strings attached.What is a good sentence for inclusive? ›
I've gone to great lengths to be inclusive of all viewpoints. You have to be inclusive of everybody. 4,790 for a three-night stay, inclusive of flights.What is an example of a inclusive? ›
The definition of inclusive is something that does not leave any part or group out. An example of inclusive is a school that has students of all races and backgrounds.
Cambridge Dictionary's official definition for inclusion is: “The act of including someone or something as part of a group, list, etc., or a person or thing that is included.” Cambridge Dictionary. Simply put, inclusion in the workplace is about ensuring that everyone feels valued and respected as an individual.What does inclusion mean to you in one word? ›
Inclusion means being included and accepted no matter the differences.What are the types of inclusive education? ›
Inclusion has two sub-types: the first is sometimes called regular inclusion or partial inclusion, and the other is full inclusion.What are the 3 main types of inclusive education? ›
There are different terms related to inclusion, namely Integrated Education, Special Education and Mainstream.What are the aims and objectives of inclusive education? ›
Inclusive Education means education for all children in school. It refers to the inclusion of all children in the education system, regardless of their differences and disabilities. It values the diversity, each child brings to the classroom and facilitates all with equal opportunities to learn and grow.What is the conclusion of inclusive education? ›
Inclusion is about personalizing education to ensure that everyone succeeds, regardless of their unique needs, and sometimes implementing an equity based mind frame is the best way to guarantee that occurs!How you will practice inclusion as an early childhood educator? ›
- access and explore indoor and outdoor areas as independently as possible;
- make choices about the resources they access and the experiences they participate in;
- interact meaningfully with other children and adults;
- care for themselves as independently as possible;
The effective teacher in the inclusive classroom possesses such characteristics as: efficient use of time; good relationships with students; provides positive feedback; has a high student success rate; and in general provides support for the students with and without disabilities (Larrivee, 1985).Who is responsible inclusive education? ›
As the instructional leader of the school, the Principal establishes the vision and direction for inclusion. The administrator is responsible for the school's overall educational program and for facilitating the provision of a continuum of supports and services to meet the diverse needs within the school.What are the most important characteristics of an inclusive education? ›
No student is excluded based on type or degree of disability. All members of the school (e.g., administration, staff, students, and parents) promote cooperative/collaborative teaching arrangements. There is school-based planning, problem-solving, and ownership of all students and programs.
- “INCLUSION” MEANS... ...all children are welcomed in a shared learning environment. ...
- High Expectations for ALL students. • multiple access points to grade-level content. ...
- Full Participation in General Education Classrooms. • services delivered in classrooms. ...
- Differentiated Instruction and Assessment. ...
- Team Collaboration.
The principle of inclusion is a component of accessibility, availability, acceptability and adaptability.What is the true meaning of inclusion? ›
Inclusion is seen as a universal human right. The aim of inclusion is to embrace all people irrespective of race, gender, disability, medical or other need. It is about giving equal access and opportunities and getting rid of discrimination and intolerance (removal of barriers).What is an example of inclusion in early years? ›
embrace and celebrate every child's uniqueness. treat all children and their families equally and with respect. include and support every child, regardless of ethnic background, culture, language, gender, socio-economic background or disability. ensure that every child is able to participate in activities.Why is inclusion so important? ›
When people feel included they are better able to contribute to the group and their society without fear of being ostracised. By bringing their ideas forward, they are offering a particular perspective, which stems from a completely different background.What is inclusion Why is it important answer? ›
Answer: Inclusion is the boundary which lets a person to be lived in. It is very important because it helps one do well in life.What does inclusion mean to you answer? ›
Inclusion means that everyone can feel welcomed and invited to a space. It's when places are accessible so you can feel respected and valued.What are the main principles of inclusive education? ›
- Meaningful friendships.
- Increased appreciation and acceptance of individual differences.
- Increased understanding and acceptance of diversity.
- Respect for all people.
- Prepares all students for adult life in an inclusive society.
Inclusion has two sub-types: the first is sometimes called regular inclusion or partial inclusion, and the other is full inclusion. Inclusive practice is not always inclusive but is a form of integration.What is inclusive education example? ›
They include multiple ways of representing content to students and for students to represent learning back, such as modeling, images, objectives and manipulatives, graphic organizers, oral and written responses, and technology.
Promote A Positive Learning Climate
It is helpful to provide a welcoming atmosphere to all students regardless of their ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds or educational preparedness. As teachers build a personal connection with their students, it can increase class participation and enthusiasm.
The definition of inclusive is something that does not leave any part or group out. An example of inclusive is a school that has students of all races and backgrounds.What are the benefits of inclusion in childcare? ›
Has a high level of system administration and support that addresses:
- Ongoing training.
- Well defined processes and procedures.
- Beneficial collaboration with families, community and support specialists.
- Quality standards.
- Make it Personal. Provide opportunities for students to share their own experiences and perspectives. ...
- Include Various Perspectives. Provide a variety of perspectives on the topics you teach. ...
- Know Your Students. Get to know your students. ...
- Respect Diverse People. ...
- Respect Diverse Talents.
- Understand the Challenges Your Students Face. Some young children face physical and/or cognitive challenges that can result in learning delays or difficulties. ...
- Think in Terms of Inclusion. ...
- Use Available Technology.