Inclusion in the Early Childhood Classroom

Michael Reisman, M.Ed.
Director, HCYMCA Early Childhood Education

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. – John Lennon

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At the YMCA we are about Youth Development®, Healthy Living and Social Responsibility.  Each department, together and apart, is charged to bring all three values into our work with youth and adults, children and families.  At the HCYMCA Child Learning Center in Annandale and the YMCA Preschool in Milford, it is easy to locate Healthy Living and Youth Development® anywhere you turn.  We are participants in Healthy U, trained in the Coordinated Approach to Child Health, and we do all we can to provide a healthy amount of playground opportunities and fresh air for all children.  Certainly what is even more obvious: Youth Development.  It is our entire raison d’etre, from curriculum planning through observation and documentation.  But finding Social Responsibility requires a longer look.  Not because it is hard to find, but because not everyone knows what to look for.  Since last year’s annual Tri-State YMCA Social Responsibility Conference, I have been asking myself, where and how are we exercising Social Responsibility in our early childhood classrooms?

This inquiry revealed to me our work and commitment towards Inclusion in our classrooms.  Specifically what we can learn, children and adults alike, from being inclusive and recognizing the individual child’s style, perspective, and yen for learning. 

The Y defines inclusion as, “The full engagement and development of all Y stakeholders (staff, participants, members, policy volunteers, program volunteers, partners, communities, vendors, etc.).”  It’s very clean, I know, and requires some unpacking.  The contemporary interpretation is at least 20 years old, despite some notions that it might be a new or progressive idea.  Colleen Tomko wrote in 1996:

“It is being included in life and participating using one's abilities in day to day activities as a member of the community.  It is being a part of what everyone else is, and being welcomed and embraced as a member who belongs. Inclusion can occur in schools, churches, play- grounds, work and in recreation.”

It’s not about placing the differentiated learners along with the typical developers and praying it goes well.  It is much more work than that, but perfect work for the Y.  Our teachers are actively learning about how to better provide for each individual in every classroom so that all children feel like they belong.  Sometimes that translates into leveling the playing field in the class so that everyone has the opportunity to contribute.  Sometimes it means going further to challenge that one child who seems to be a little further along the developmental curve.  Sometimes it means reminding the parents and guardians in the classroom community that everyone is unique and everyone belongs, even if someone comes across as different or struggles to fit in or make friends. 

The Child Learning Center and Milford YMCA Preschool are committed to these ideals.  We see children as competent and capable as soon as they walk in the door.  Do your Google searches.  You will find that historically, the children who benefit the most from inclusive programs are the typically developing children, especially in the early childhood years while they are growing their capacity for empathy, patience, understanding and problem-solving.  Here are some links you might find helpful:

http://www.kidstogether.org/inclusion.htm

https://www.noodle.com/articles/4-myths-about-inclusive-education-debunked

http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/learning-disabilities/inclusive-education/the-benefits-of-inclusive-education/

Happy Halloween!

Michael Reisman, M.Ed. is Director of Early Childhood Education for the Hunterdon County YMCA.  mreisman@hcymca.org  908-483-4623

For information regarding Round Valley Child Learning Center Programs call 908-236-0055, ext. 4605.  For the YMCA Milford Preschool, 908-995-8107


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