Curriculum modifications are simple but powerful tools that can help make a learning environment more accessible to all students. This tool kit, written for teachers, offers a definition of curriculum modifications, describes their different types, and offers suggestions of how to plan for and incorporate them in the classroom. Information in this tool kit is based on the concepts of the third edition of Building Blocks for Teaching Preschoolers with Special Needs (2019), by Sandall, Schwartz, Joseph, & Gauvreau.
Definition of Curriculum Modification
A curriculum modification is a change to the ongoing classroom activity or materials to help a child participate. The change may impact the materials used or the delivery of the lesson just a bit but does not change the learning goals of the activity.
Types of Curriculum Modifications
There are eight main types of curriculum modifications. Definitions and examples of each type are provided below:
1. Environmental support
Definition: Changing the physical, temporal, social, and temporal environment
- Physical: Using colored tape to make X’s on the ground indicating where each child should stand when in line at the door
- Social: When putting children into groups, making one group smaller than the others to give those students extra practice talking and participating
- Temporal: Providing a symbol or object, such as a spoon right before snack time, for a child who has trouble understanding and making transitions
- For additional ideas, see Curriculum Modifications: Environmental Adaptations
2. Materials adaptation
Definition: Modifying materials to increase a child’s participation
- Using tape to create a thicker handle on a paint brush, making it easier to grip
- Taping a paper to the table so it doesn’t slide around while a child is coloring
- For additional ideas, see Curriculum Modifications: Materials Adaptations
3. Activity simplification
Definition: Simplifying a complicated task by breaking it into smaller parts or reducing the number of steps
- Giving a child a shape sorter with only half of the shapes while using tape to cover holes that aren’t being used
- Teaching a child to complete only the first two steps of the handwashing routine independently and providing support for the remaining steps
4. Child preference
Definition: Integrating a child’s interests into nonpreferred routines or activities
- If a child is avoiding the book loft, adding books on transportation (his favorite topic)
- If a child is reluctant to sing at circle time, beginning the activity with her favorite song
5. Special equipment
Definition: Using special or adaptive devices
- Providing a child with cerebral palsy a stander to facilitate easier participation at a table activity
- Offering a touch screen computer for a child whose fine motor skills do not allow her to use a mouse or keyboard
6. Adult support
Definition: Having an adult intervene to support a child’s participation and learning. Support should be targeted, specific, and removed after its purpose is fulfilled; it should never be a general “hovering” around a child.
- If a child is having difficulty zipping his coat, offering hand-over-hand support just to get the zipper started
- If a child is having trouble using a new set of manipulatives, joining him for one session and modeling ways to use the materials
7. Peer support
Definition: Using peers to help children learn
- Pairing a shy student with a talkative student during an activity where students are interviewing experts
- Pairing a novice computer user with a more experienced peer during technology centers
8. Invisible support
Definition: Purposeful arranging of naturally occurring events within one activity
- Calling on a student who is learning English after three or four students have answered (providing a helpful model)
- Allowing a student with motor difficulties to put food onto his lunch plate first, while the serving bowl is full and it is easier to scoop items
Knowing When to Use Modifications
Although curriculum modifications are useful for supporting students with disabilities or developmental delays, they can be used for any student, any time that they are not participating to their fullest ability, as illustrated in Curriculum Modifications: Introduction to a Blog Series.
As a teacher plans an upcoming activity, she can anticipate which students in the classroom might have difficulty, what types of difficulty they might have, and incorporate modifications accordingly.
- Ms. Jones is planning for students to sort manipulatives by color and shape. She anticipates that Jonas will have trouble keeping his materials contained, so she uses the environmental adaption of putting manipulatives into shallow trays.
- Ms. Chin is inviting a local restaurant owner to talk to the class about their project on pizza. She anticipates that Maya will have difficulty waiting for a turn to ask her question, but she wants Maya to practice raising her hand and allowing others to talk as well. Ms. Chin uses invisible support by calling on Maya third, increasing her chances of successfully listening to others before sharing her ideas.
- Mr. Edwards, the PE teacher, wants to teach his students to pass a ball back and forth to each other, in preparation for some upcoming ball sports. His student Rafael has a visual impairment. Mr. Edwards works with the teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) and orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist to acquire an audible ball that makes noise when it is used. This adaptation of special equipment allows Rafael to participate with his classmates.
Incorporating Curriculum Modifications into Lesson Planning
Curriculum modifications do not alter the overarching goals of a lesson. For example, if the goal is a for children to write the first letter of their name, that can be accomplished with a traditional pencil, but it is also accomplished with a variety of curriculum modifications such as:
- Using a pencil with a gripper on it (materials adaptation)
- Using a communication device that allows a child to type letters (special equipment)
- Using a paper secured to an easel (environmental support)
- Using a favorite-colored crayon (child preference)
- Working near a classmate who models for writing a particular letter (peer support)
Although modifications are simple, they do require planning. There are times when a teacher realizes the need for a modification as an activity is occurring and puts it into place on the fly, but a better strategy is to incorporate modifications into lesson planning, ensuring they are ready for each child who needs one. For example, in a lesson related to sorting, one child with a visual impairment needs brightly colored objects to sort (materials adaptation), while another needs to sort fewer items to be successful (activity simplification). During the planning process, a teacher recognizes these different needs and has appropriate items ready. For some concrete examples of how this might work, see Adapting Lesson Plans to Meet IELDS Benchmarks.
Curriculum modifications are easy for early childhood educators to implement. They help learners with disabilities, delays, and other challenges a great deal. With just a bit of teacher planning, each child can access the fun learning activities in their classroom.