Creating a ‘culture of inclusion’
Creating a ‘culture of inclusion’ means not just practicing the principles of inclusion when a child with a disability attends. It means embedding these principles in the fibre of the centre. Reflect on your centre practice. Do you ensure all children, regardless of their background or ability, are given the chance to play, learn and interact together? Is every child valued, supported and given access to equal opportunities and learning experiences? Does your centre reflect diversity within your program?
Think about your displays, books you read, songs you sing, language you use, experiences you plan and how you challenge children’s biased statements. The personal nature of play ensures it is the ideal way for all children to be included; and is such a ‘leveller’ as it does not have to rely on skills with which a child might have difficulty. Participation can look different for every child. It is also important to recognise individuality and remember not everyone needs the same support, even if there is a similar diagnosis.
To encourage participation throughout the day, sensory toys can be beneficial for children who find it difficult to participate in a group activity such as story time, or mealtime. They may respond by holding a toy of choice when they are sitting as part of the group, or any time you feel the child needs help to regulate. Do you have a sensory space/box which children are free to use?
AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) refers to any communication aside from verbal communication, and includes things like signing and visual supports. Learn some basic key word signing and create some visuals. The important thing is to embed signing and visual communication into your daily practice. The more you do it, the more natural it becomes, and the more natural it is for children – so when a child attends your service that relies on it, everyone is already comfortable and competent at using it. If you had a child in your centre that only spoke Mandarin, you would ensure you learnt some key words to communicate. For a child who does not use speech to communicate, you need to learn their language.
ECEC educators are good at recognising children as individuals, so why does this become harder when children have a disability? Remember:
- Start with a positive attitude.
- Do not expect to do everything perfectly all the time! One step in the right direction is still a positive step. Start by doing one thing tomorrow that is more inclusive than yesterday and if you continue with that, it will soon become standard practice.
- If you focus on the difficulties a child presents with, that is what you will see. Every child is a child first. Disability is one part of that child but does not have to define everything.
- Rights of children and families are not dependent on ability or behaviour.
- Ensure open and effective communication with families.
- Allow everyone to achieve – but remember not everyone needs to achieve the same things.
- Ensure access is not just about physical access – but suitability of spaces and places.
- Things do not always have to be expensive – be creative.
- Ensure ongoing training and support within your team to build capacity in everyone.
- Create inclusive learning environments through everyday strategies
- Authentic inclusion means all children are welcome, valued, and supported to achieve.
Inclusion should not be something you ‘do’ – it needs to be part of who you are.