Our blogs have all addressed specific topics regarding this unique population of 48-month-old children that are in our school buildings and local centers. As we spring into the last few months of our work, this blog will focus on meeting the individualized needs of children with (and without identified) disabilities.
First, let’s be clear- Children ALL have special needs.
Yes, some arrive with an IEP or have developmental or learning delays that may have not yet been identified. Yet, others arrive at school hungry, without enough sleep, and not yet understanding the English language. In addition, young children often have bumps in their road to developing social-emotional and self-regulation skills!
Teachers have a resource with the CLASS® tool to assist them in looking at each child as an individual with unique needs, styles, and strengths.
Let us look at how teachers can see through the CLASS® lens as they implement 6 strategies captured in the CLASS® observation tool.
In this month’s blog, Part 1, we’ll look at the first 3 strategies.
#1 Build Genuine Relationships
All children, regardless of ability, benefit from warm, supportive relationships. Providing emotional support for children continues to say to them, “you are safe here and you can trust me.” We know from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that children need that important foundation in order to learn. Teachers build that foundation each day by:
- demonstrating respect to children,
- getting on eye level,
- listening attentively and
- facilitating children’s engagement in conversations.
Again, we know that regardless of ability, children benefit from warm and supportive relationships. In the CLASS® tool, this is known as Positive Climate and it sets the stage for all interactions that happen throughout the day.
#2 Assume Competence and Be Aware of Each Child’s Learning Needs
When children enter our classrooms, we may be quick to discover what their weaknesses are. Sometimes we may be too quick in assuming what they cannot do – instead of looking at what they can do.
|We can only build upon children’s strengths, not their deficits.|
Being aware of and responsive to children’s individualized learning needs are key components of Teacher Sensitivity in the CLASS® tool.
Do we observe first and then use verbal and visual prompts before we assist a child?
Do we honor the time that is needed for each child to complete a task (instead of adopting a one-size fits all approach)?
In the world of special education, teachers routinely monitor children’s progress and adjust their instruction accordingly. This is good practice for all children! For example, that may mean:
- breaking down instructions into smaller components,
- providing a visual, (model the action and/or show an illustration of handwashing), or
- finding a puzzle with less pieces if the child is frustrated with the one he or she has.
Teachers can make these kinds of adaptations as part of their ongoing planning.
#3 Give Children Choices
Every time we do something for children, we are taking away the opportunity for them to display their competencies and problem-solve on their own. Do we give children opportunities to be independent?
Teachers may often offer the same choices for all children in the classroom, but consider that
- Some children may need limited choices to be more successful.
- Some children need time to process what the choices are.
- They may also need to point or touch what their choices are if they are non-verbal. A child may also express himself or herself by using visual pictures or a communication device.
When we follow the interests of individual children, this helps increase their engagement. Teachers can build activities around children’s preferences and also provide materials that are “open-ended” (playdough, blocks, sand, water, or art). These materials allow children who are at different levels of ability to pursue their interests at different rates and experience a variety of complexity– without having to usethe materials in a particular way.
Freedom of movement is also important for young children. Children need to move and touch things every day in the classroom. When teachers allow flexibility and movement within the daily schedule, this follows the natural path of young children. Referred to as Regard For Child Perspectives in the CLASS tool, this allows a teacher to continuously be mindful of what the child may be thinking and feeling throughout the day.
Stay tuned ‘til next month for the remaining 3 strategies that are good for ALL children, including children with disabilities!