Posted on 01/20/2020 at 07:53 AM by Blog Experts

Belonging.  Being included.  Having a friend.  Those of us who work with young children understand the importance of belonging, being included and having friends.  Or do we?

When was the last time you added a social or emotional goal to your lesson plans?  Do you really take time to embed friendship skills into your daily routines?  Do you feel it is important or just an afterthought?  Do you only work on friendships during the month of February when Valentine’s Day and “friends” are the talk of the month?

Think about your classroom.  What are you doing to promote the feeling of “I belong here,”  “I am welcome here,” and “I have friends here” ?  

Here are some tips for helping all children gain a sense of belonging.  

  1. A picture of each child is posted somewhere in the classroom.  It can be on an “Our Families” wall, in a classroom book, or on a set of blocks, but each child is represented.  
  2. Children’s ideas are valued.  Ask them what they think about a topic, what book to read, what song to sing, what materials to take outside, what items they would like in the art area, and so on.  Then actually follow through with their ideas.
  3. Know each child’s likes and have something they like to do available to them. 
  4. Know the adults in your children’s families.  Who do your students live with, do the adults work and if so, where? What hours are they available?  Do they have transportation?  Do they have talents or skills they would like to share with the class?  Can they be guest reader either in person or virtually?  How can you ensure that each child’s family is a contributor in some way to your classroom?
  5. There are books, photos, and materials that represent the culture of each child displayed and made available throughout the day.  As an educator, you gather information about the cultures of the children in your classroom.

Inclusion is a hot topic right now and rightly so; it pairs well with belonging and having friends.  Inclusion in this blog refers to children with disabilities being included in early learning environments along with typically developing peers.  Just being in the same classroom in close physical proximity with other children does not equal inclusion.  Inclusion is so much more.  When children are included, they are better able to develop friendships.  We know that “peer acceptance during early childhood is a predictor of peer relationships later in life, and positive peer relationships and friendships during early childhood have been found to protect children from psychological problems later in life (Hay 2005).” *  

Characteristics of an inclusive classroom include the following:

  1. The overall goals of fostering friendships and developing a caring community of learners is evident.
  2. Children feel comfortable taking risks and are accepting of each other.  Teachers demonstrate that they value and respect all children.
  3. Each member of the classroom community is valued.  Uniqueness is celebrated.  Strengths of each child are identified and known by the class.
  4. Each child is a contributor in a way that is appropriate for him/her.  Everyone can contribute something.  
  5. Opportunities to interact, collaborate, and learn from each other are embedded throughout the daily routines.  Activities that involve building child-to-child relationships are planned and frequent.
  6. Clear expectations for student behaviors are taught, modeled, practiced and promoted by given ongoing, specific feedback.  
  7. Children are taught how to treat each other and teachers support them as they learn the expectations and rules.  
  8. The physical environment supports all children’s health, safety and interaction.  All children can move around freely without obstacles and materials are easily accessible.  Play and sensory centers promote movement, active engagement, and social interaction.  
  9. The classroom has a routine that is structured and predictable.  Visual schedules are posted and referred to frequently throughout the day.
  10. Instruction is differentiated and children are respected for what they can do.  Each child is challenged appropriately and supported in building their knowledge and skills.  

Celebrate each item above that you are already doing.  Challenge yourself to add more.  We are not just getting our students “school-ready.”  We are getting them life-ready.  What you do in your program truly matters, not just for now but forever. 

 

* Building Community in the Inclusive Classroom, by Melissa A. Sreckovic, Tia R. Schultz, Christine K. Kenney, and Harriet Able in Young Children, July 2018. 

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