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Thoughts on Project Work with Children Who Have Special Needs

Originally published:

Child playing with a toy firetruck

At IEL, we have updated our language to reflect our continued understanding of disability. This uses the term “special needs,” but the content remains relevant.  

The 2013–2014 school year was my first year at John L. Hensey School, where Kim Burd and Laura DeLuca teach our early childhood special education classes. I have enjoyed observing their teaching methods and learning about the Project Approach with them. Theirs is a very hands-on, real-experience classroom where they create opportunities for all learners to be engaged at their own levels.

We often see these classes investigating in our halls and around our school with their clipboards in hand. This fall, I observed the progress of an interest in firefighters and other rescue workers that grew into a nice, long fire truck construction. They read many books about the trucks, made lists and webs about what they knew, and constructed parts of the truck that they knew were important. The teachers shared with us how the children used the truck to play out their fears and experiences after a tornado hit our town (Washington, IL) in November. We had the completed truck and a nice display of their project in our school foyer for several weeks along with a “Thank You” message for the Washington Fire Department.

I am still learning about the Project Approach, but I see the valuable ways its use ties into important and current issues in our schools, including Charlotte Danielson’s expectations of engaged learning in the classroom and the Core Curriculum’s emphasis on problem solving and higher order thinking. These ECE teachers are meeting Illinois Early Learning Standards and addressing IEP skills within their project work as well. We are seeing that these real experiences for our young children with special needs are important in creating that foundation of background knowledge, investigation skills, and enthusiasm for future classroom learning.

Jeffrey S. Ekena, principal
John L. Hensey School
Washington, IL

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Reviewed: 2023