The most beautiful aspect of childhood is the opportunity to observe and support the unique qualities of children. All children develop at different rates, influenced by their temperament, physiology, and family culture.
Exploring and creating individualized learning opportunities for children to thrive–including those with special needs– is a cornerstone of the Head Start program. Head Start programs promote children’s development through services that support early learning, health, and family well-being.
Head Start recognizes the importance of offering learning environments that are inclusive of children with different abilities and ones that promote belonging. All children participate in learning environments filled with opportunities for free choice that nurture their natural curiosity with the guidance of a loving caregiver. Children with disabilities or other special needs benefit from participating in inclusive settings with the appropriate assistance, allowing children to achieve more than they would in a segregated environment.
Inclusive care for children with disabilities can be achieved with a relationship-based approach that is individualized and responsive to their needs. Individualized care and daily adaptations are regularly implemented by families and teachers for typically developing children, and it can be easily achieved for children with special needs.
Recognizing that all children are competent and may need support when mastering a specific skill creates a safe and inclusive setting for children to explore. When adapting environments, activities, or materials, reviewing what supports the child’s unique interests helps create opportunities for active participation. It’s also important to remember that a child’s disability may affect one area of development but may be typically developing in others.
There are several easy key strategies to adapt environments and materials to create inclusive settings.
- Alter activities to simplify
- Giving children materials for tasks one piece at a time
- Providing other materials for easier use such as a big handle paint brush
- Alter the environment to promote participation and learning.
- Use pictures to establish routines or to signal the next activity/transition
- Create safe boundaries for activities that require extra space with tape
- Place material on lower shelves for easier access
- Modify material to promote confidence
- Add knobs or handles to wooden puzzles
- Velcro to help with clothing
Head Start works closely with families to effectively plan and implement practices that keep the child engaged in the classroom community. Head Start programs change classroom materials intentionally and periodically to support children’s interests, development, and learning. Ultimately the observation and regard for the child’s preferences will generate creative strategies that support inclusive learning of all children. Learn more at maricopa.gov/headstart
Maricopa County Early Head Start and Head Start are offered by the Early Education Division of the Human Services Department of Maricopa County. The Early Education Division is dedicated to ensuring children have the knowledge and skills to be successful in school and life through service delivery to children and families in core areas of early learning, health, and family well-being while engaging parents as partners every step of the way. Head Start encompasses Head Start preschool programs, which primarily serve 3- and 4-year-old children, and Early Head Start programs for infants, toddlers, and pregnant women.