Today’s preschool classrooms and childcare centers have children with a variety of needs. Children in these spaces may vary in age, developmental level, languages spoken, socioeconomic status, and individual characteristics and preferences. Of course, this is not news to any early childhood educator. Despite these differences, we often have shared goals for all children within a learning environment. In a preschool classroom, we may focus on learning outcomes in academic areas or shared experiences such circle time or center play. We may value shared experiences such as meals or outings, or we may have expectations for self-help skills such as eating or dressing independently.
These shared goals may be hard to accomplish when children in a group vary in their ability. For example, one child in a classroom may not have the skills to fully participate in a learning station. Another child may have trouble with self-help skills, such as putting on a jacket, to get ready to go outside for play. When this happens, common responses from adults often fall into one of two categories. Let’s consider these options in a classroom.
- A first common response is to provide adult support. If a child cannot independently complete an activity at centers, the teacher may assign a specific adult to go with him and provide verbal step-by-step direction, redirection, or physical guidance such as hand-over-hand assistance.
- A second common response is removal from the activity. If a child cannot independently complete an activity at centers, the teacher may suggest he choose something else or ask him to move to a different location after seeing him struggle.
Neither of these two options is ideal. The first, adult support, may help the child learn a skill, but at a cost. Constant adult direction is not a sustainable long-term plan. If the adult does the activity for the child every time, the child is not learning the skills or experiencing the activity in a way similar to his classmates. For example, a teacher may need to provide hand-over-hand assistance to teach a child to zip his coat, but if the teacher zips the child’s coat for him every day, the child eventually loses out on not only the independence this offers but also the comradery of the shared experience, which may also deter interactions with other children. After all, it’s hard to work or play with a friend who has an adult glued to him.
The second option, removal from the activity, is also not ideal. Consider the feelings of a child who is removed from a lively block center because she is unable to build with the Legos provided. Activities in classrooms, especially shared activities, should be available to everyone. Excluding one person is not equitable and diminishes her status as an important member of the classroom. It’s also likely the child is missing something she would enjoy if she could participate successfully.
Luckily, there are other options. In an upcoming series of blogs, we will discuss these options, called curriculum modifications, which are slight changes to the way that we present or conduct a learning activity without changing its underlying purpose or goal. Different types of curriculum modifications will be explored in this upcoming series.