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Program Philosophies of Inclusion
The DEC-NAEYC position statement on inclusion gives early childhood educators a frame-
work for creating a program philosophy around inclusion. It guides programs to create
philosophies that can ensure that “practitioners and staff operate under a similar set of
assumptions, values, and beliefs about the most effective ways to support infants and
young children with disabilities and their families. A program philosophy on inclusion
should be used to shape practices aimed at ensuring that infants and young children with
disabilities and their families are full members . . . and have multiple opportunities to learn,
develop, and form positive relationships” (DEC/NAEYC 2009). Following are some guidelines
to consider when establishing a program philosophy:
•• A written philosophy around inclusion should be part of both the family handbook and
the materials on staff expectations.
•• Written policies around inclusion should align with a program’s mission and values state-
ment and should reinforce the importance of building a community of respect.
Staff members feel supported when they know that the mission of their organization
includes a commitment to values that respect the young children and families with whom
•• If staff members have clear expectations of their role in working with all children, fewer
issues will arise when children are identified as having developmental concerns or when
new children with assessed disabilities are placed in their classrooms.
•• A written philosophy or policy on inclusion can help prevent confusion among the staff
about enrollment of young children with disabilities or expulsion of children currently
enrolled. •• Any policy that seems to screen out children with disabilities needs to be carefully
examined and rewritten in a way that does not discriminate but creates an atmosphere
of acceptance (US DOJ 1997).
•• Informing families upon enrollment about a program’s policy of including all children can
set the tone for a trusting and respectful relationship.
•• An inclusion policy that articulates the program’s philosophy is also helpful to families of
children with and without disabilities if issues around a child’s behavior or development
arise after enrollment. The policy can be an effective operational tool for early childhood
programs. Practical Application: Making Inclusion Work
Young children have a wonderful ability to adapt and adjust to one another as they learn
and play together. For children with special needs, their worlds are opened up and broad-
ened through experiences with other children in natural settings. A natural setting is a
typical setting for any child at a given age without a disability. The goal of inclusion is to
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provide high-quality, enriching opportunities for young children with disabilities in natural
settings or environments.
However, there can be challenges to making inclusion work:
•• Without a shared vision for inclusion, staff members in early childhood programs can be
at odds with supervisors and one another about how to proceed with children’s adapta-
tions or what the expectations are for modifying curriculum or activities. Tools like the
DEC-NAEYC position statement on early childhood inclusion can guide staff members in
defining a philosophy of inclusion for their program. This shared vision sets the ground-
work for a written inclusion policy, which can be shared with families as well.
•• Staff members may not know how to field questions from families of children without
special needs who express concerns over their children receiving less attention if a
child with disabilities is enrolled. A shared vision statement of inclusion can guide staff
members in making decisions that promote the values of the program.
•• Early childhood professionals say they need training and professional development
in order to feel equipped to work with children of differing abilities. Resources and
supports provided by directors, specialists working with the children, the families, and
disability organizations can be tools for staff support.
•• Time, energy, and staffing may be challenges to inclusion if organizational supports are
not in place for child care providers. In all child care settings, attention must be given to
a child’s true needs for teacher-child support. Decisions should not be based on assump-
tions about a particular disability.
•• Fear and lack of confidence in providing high-quality care to children with disabilities can
be a barrier for child care providers. Ongoing communication with families about what
works well for their children at home can be one way to overcome this challenge. Oppor-
tunities for discussion with other specialists (with written family permission) can also
alleviate caregivers’ lack of confidence.
There are also a variety of benefits to making inclusion work. Inclusion can benefit families,
children with disabilities, children without disabilities, and child care providers.
Benefits of Inclusion for Families
•• Learning to accept their children’s strengths and needs
•• Sharing common experiences and feeling kinship with other families
•• Having the opportunity to see chronologically age-appropriate activities
•• Being able to work outside the home thanks to increased access to child care services
•• Discovering that others can provide a secure and nurturing learning environment for
their children with special needs
•• Understanding that all children have negative behaviors such as tantrums or toilet prob-
lems, not just their children with special needs
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