How to Build An Inclusive Child Care Center

“Inclusion” is defined as the action of including or being included within a group or structure. It means that all people, regardless of their disabilities, abilities or health needs have the basic right to be empowered, respected and appreciated as members of their community in their own right. 

Inclusion is closely related to a child’s need to belong and is key to helping children build secure attachments with adults and their peers. Creating an inclusive space has been a hot topic of discussion in child care recently and we wanted to put out a guide on how to create an inclusive space at your child care center. 

What is Inclusion In Child Care? 

The reality is that many early childhood professionals do not have hands-on training when it comes to working with children who have special needs. Teachers often have to figure out how to navigate working with children with special needs and their families while on the job. This is due to the fact that these children often have individualized support requirements and it is hard to prepare for that before the fact.  

Inclusion in early childhood education refers to involving children with special needs in a classroom with children of a similar age. This happens while the educator provides specialized support for the child’s development, and studies have shown that practising inclusion in an early years classroom has benefits for everyone

Benefits Of An Inclusive Child Care

Inclusion supports the development of children with special needs and teaches their typically developing peers to become more compassionate and accepting of differences. Early childhood professionals play a key role in creating a space that fosters inclusive practices.

One of the key benefits of inclusive practices for children with special needs is the ability to develop socio-emotional skills in an environment that allows them to learn at their own pace. Exposure to peers of the same age will also teach them how to interact with different children and process different situations outside of a controlled environment. 

When all the early educators at your center are invested in creating an inclusive space, the child is provided with the opportunity to build and establish relationships with different adults as well. Access to a variety of relationships and controlled environments will help a child with special needs develop the skills and confidence they need to learn and navigate the world around them as they get older. Holistically, this translates to supporting the child’s interest in learning and this is true for all young children! 

For children that are developing typically, being in an inclusive learning environment will teach them empathy and how to accept different individuals (even if the situation might be challenging). This is a great opportunity for children to develop leadership skills, by helping and teaching their peers the skills that they have already mastered. 

An increased appreciation for the good in every person will set children up for a more inclusive society and nip bullying at the bud. As with everything, laying down the foundation well and early leads to better outcomes in the long run.

3 Administrative Things To Consider When Creating An Inclusive Child Care Center

Now that we’ve covered why inclusion in child care is important, let’s have a look at how to implement it at your center. Remember that this is an ongoing process and sometimes it can take time and a lot of effort. But, as long as you keep putting in the work, it will all come together in the end. Here are a few things to consider when putting the right structures in place to create an inclusive child care center.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate 

It might seem like creating an inclusive space is the responsibility of teachers in the classroom, but the center administration plays a huge role too! 

When a family is shopping around for child care, the administration is usually their first point of contact. Communicating the center’s values and attitudes towards children with special needs and their inclusion in daily activities is really important from the start. This invites new families to participate in the conversation on supporting children with special needs and helps them understand what to expect.  

Establish The Right Support Systems

Becoming an inclusive center is a choice and that comes with acknowledging that things can be challenging sometimes. Ensure that your teachers have the support they need to succeed.

This can be in the form of providing opportunities for ongoing professional development, having a behavioral specialist on staff, or even just scheduling enough of relief staff to help out if needed. Putting the right support systems in place is the difference between creating a positive inclusive environment and having staff and families that are overwhelmed. It does take a village after all! 

Admin staff are also responsible for the overarching experience of all families at the center. Having an ear to the ground and staying connected to the attitudes of everyone at the center towards your inclusive policies can nip potential issues in the bud, and encourage open dialogue on a larger scale. Hosting community events to connect different age groups and families is also a great way to make the center a welcoming space as a whole. 

Collaborate with specialists

Children with special needs often require the support of specialists outside the classroom. Specialists can help teachers understand what to expect when working with a child with special needs and develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that includes working closely with their families.

This connection between home and classroom is so important when it comes to children with special needs. A specialist’s role is to guide and facilitate that connection.

Inclusion In A Preschool Classroom

Now, let’s move into the classroom. It is up to each lead teacher to create a classroom that is physically and emotionally welcoming of everyone. Having honest conversations about disabilities with the other children (and their families) is not always the easiest, but taking a strengths-based approach will help everyone understand work better together. 

Make things fun to help children feel comfortable with each other and bond. Educators can also facilitate communication in a way that is accessible to other children if a child is having difficulty communicating what they want. 

This takes a tremendous amount of emotional work and knowing each and every child in your group on a personal level. Bringing a sense of community into the classroom means that every single individual is bringing something unique to the table that they can be proud of. Empowering your children in this sense will help build mutual respect, care, and understanding between peers.

Being in a position to create an inclusive classroom is a huge responsibility that is extremely rewarding. You are literally molding the way young children perceive and interact with their peers!

How do you work towards creating a more inclusive center? Are there any pointers that you’d like to add? Leave them in the comments section!

Some centers use HiMama as a parent communication tool to keep parents in the loop with their child’s development. Schedule a demo to learn more about how we can help.

Carmen Choi

Carmen is the Marketing Coordinator and Preschool Podcast Manager on the HiMama team. She's been working with childcare business owners and consultants for 3 years. She is passionate making connections that empower the ECE Community through knowledge-sharing to support better outcomes for children, their families, and society!

One comment

  • Carolyn says:

    I am all for inclusion and as a preschool director I never turn away a student simply due to a diagnosis or a special need. Over the years we have worked successfully with children on the spectrum, with ADHD, feeding tubes, as well as diabetes. The issue I am seeing a lot of now though is that many young children come in without any diagnosis (which is normal at their young age) and therefore no outside support. While our teachers always strive to help each child to make progress in all areas, often we see children with special needs taking too much of the teacher’s time away from the rest of the class and at times becoming extremely disruptive and violent. This places all children in the class not only at risk of falling behind developmentally, but also at risk for being physically injured. Do you have suggestions of how we can get the in-class support that these children need? We are a private preschool and have limited resources. Thank you for any suggestions you may have.

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