Every Child Belongs: Advice for Teachers on Preschool Students with Special Needs

Are you a teacher welcoming a child with special needs to your classroom for the first time? Or a parent who is concerned that your child may need some kind of accommodation for pre-school?

Pamela Brillante, an educator and consultant writing for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, offers valuable advice for preschool teachers who may be meeting their first special needs students.

“Many children with disabilities benefit from simple accommodations and modifications, while other children may need more specialized, individualized supports provided by special education professionals. These professionals will work with you, the children, and their families to help the children learn and thrive,” she writes. “To be an effective teacher, remember that regardless of individual needs, children are first and foremost children—and best practices for young children are best practices for all young children.”

Her pointers include:

  • See the child as a child first; look beyond the disability or need to understand who the child is and build a trusting relationship.
  • Determine where individual children need more support.
  • Tap into the expertise of special education professionals.

Dr. Brillante also provides a number of simple strategies for adapting the classroom resources and activities to engage all the children in meaningful ways, such as

  • Arranging the classroom environment to minimize distractions and enable children to move around independently. Dr. Brillante suggests removing clutter, eliminating things like throw rugs that could cause unstable footing, and making sure that materials the students will use are all within easy reach.
  • Adding visual supports and props to daily routines, to help familiarize the children with these routines more quickly, keep them engaged, and assist them in transitioning between different activities. Teachers should ensure that routines have predictable beginnings, middles and ends.
  • Engaging fellow students to model positive behaviors and skills. Brillante writes, “Peers who do not have disabilities can model positive prosocial and communication skills and demonstrate everyday routines that young children with disabilities can imitate. Classmates can also help children develop social relationships and increase their motivation to be part of classroom activities.”
  • Modifying toys and materials to make them easier for children with motor difficulties to hold and maneuver. For example, board books may be easier for children to hold than soft-covered books, while adding pencil grips to crayons can make them easier for children with motor skill difficulties to hold.

Dr. Brillante concludes, “Finally, trust your knowledge and instincts. Whatever the needs of the children in your classroom, learn to trust your instincts and rely on your professional expertise and judgment. Be willing to seek help from others who have valuable experience and knowledge to share with you. These are important things you can do not just for children with disabilities but for every child in your classroom!”

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