Inclusive Practices and Remote Learning

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some early childhood professionals have transitioned to remote learning. This has been a new way of teaching young children for many early childhood educators. While learning remotely, children with disabilities continue to require the accommodations, modifications, and support described in their Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). This tool kit will support teachers with ideas with:

  • Anytime inclusive practices
  • Ways to become an effective remote teacher
  • Tips for both synchronous and asynchronous teaching and learning
  • Stories from the field with a focus on inclusive preschools

Anytime Inclusive Practices

  • Inclusion means educating children with and without disabilities together in the environments that children without disabilities would typically be found, such as preschool classrooms, parks, childcare, and homes. According to the ISBE inclusion guide, results of high-quality inclusion for children with disabilities are a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning to reach their full potential.
  • Inclusion is best practiced with a team. Collaborating and communicating well with family members, teachers, and specialists to support the child with disabilities or developmental delays makes sense because we can all learn from each other and support the child in different ways. Our Inclusion in Preschool Classrooms tip sheet discusses how inclusion and inclusion teams work.
  • All children, especially children with disabilities and delays, deserve to feel welcome and at home in their early childhood environments. Teachers can help promote a sense of belonging by considering each child’s needs and skills. Learn more about belonging in our blog Creating a Sense of Belonging in Preschool.
  • Inclusion promotes a child’s access to educational opportunities and environments. It increases the child’s participation in classroom activities and supports meaningful interactions with peers and teachers. Teachers and early childhood leaders can be strong advocates for inclusion by using a summary of the DEC/NAEYC joint position statement Early Childhood Inclusion to create policies supporting inclusion in their center or school.

If you are interested in learning more about early childhood inclusion, consider the Foundations of Inclusion CONNECT Module or Early Choices’ Understanding Inclusion module, which covers topics such as least restrictive environments, the journey of inclusion, and advocating for inclusion. These modules focus on supporting early childhood teachers and families of young children with disabilities.

Becoming an Effective Remote Teacher

  • Learn to independently use online resources/programs well (Zoom, Google classroom, etc.)
    • Get comfortable with being on camera and communicating more frequently with families
    • Do you know how to mute and unmute yourself and others?  Do you know how to share your screen? Tips & Tricks: Teachers Educating on Zoom provides some tips and tricks for educators using Zoom.
  • Be intentional when setting up a comfortable and organized work space at home or school. 
    • Have a basket of materials that you need often, such as storybooks, pens, and note cards, near you. 
    • Set up good lighting in front of you.  Don’t sit with a window behind you.
    • Use a supportive chair or try standing for part of the day.
    • Lift your laptop or tablet higher to keep your face in frame. Learn more ways to upgrade your home teaching setup with this Edutopia blog.
  • Learn from your peers or other teachers who are technology gurus
  • Attend any relevant training on remote learning from your school or center
  • Ask for support from your school or center leaders if you are struggling
  • Find online free professional development on remote learning. Depending on which platform your school or program is using, choose the training that will help you learn to better navigate that platform: Google for Education , Apple Teacher, or Microsoft: Remote Teaching and Learning

Here comes the challenge. You know about inclusive practices and you understand the basics of remote learning, but how can you bring those ideas together and ensure that you are promoting inclusive practices during this unique time of remote learning? The next sections of this tool kit will give you some guidance.

Inclusive Practices During Synchronous/Live Video Learning

  • Teach children what to do (and what not to do) during video meetings. Just like rules at circle time, you can teach rules for Zoom! The Institute Blog can give you more ideas on Zoom meetings with young children.
  • Welcome all children to the class by name using a classroom song or routine. For example, “Hello, Jonas. Hello, Jonas. Hello, Jonas. We are glad you’re here with us today!” (and continue for each child in class)
  • Work on participation and engagement. Consider using a class list and checking off each time you ask a question of a child to make sure you are engaging with each child at least once.
  • Consider read-alouds during synchronous learning time. Having conversations about the story helps children with comprehension and retelling. You might ask children to guess what the characters will do next or talk about how the characters might feel in a part of the story. Use universal design for learning to allow all children to participate in the conversation. Allow children to respond in full sentences, one-word utterances, yes/no responses, or nonverbally such as nodding their head.
  • Use puppets or stuffed animals as visuals in a story or when teaching about concepts. Learn how to make visuals with children in our Visual Schedules and Checklists blog post.
  • Teach social-emotional skills such as understanding feelings and learning how to greet peers during live sessions. Children can make choices on how to greet a peer in a video meeting, just like in the classroom, with a high five, hug, or handshake. For children with disabilities, making choices is a way for them to better participate and engage with classmates. Watch how children greet each other in a virtual classroom in Episode 10 of the ECTA video series Preschool During the Pandemic.
  • Organize small groups for targeted learning on phonemic awareness or IEP goals. Can you include a para, teacher assistant, or aide to help with a small group?  Inclusive classrooms with a paraprofessionals can get ideas about remote learning through this Medium article.

Inclusive Practices During Asynchronous/Remote Learning

Your remote learning program may have an aspect of independent home learning in which you as the teacher share educational materials that families will do on their time. If so, here are some ideas to facilitate that process. 

  • Explain activities to parents efficiently but try not to overload them. Try a weekly schedule of suggested activities, with weblinks included, but keep it flexible.  Flexible options allow all learners to be successful at a developmentally appropriate level.
  • Consider the Project Approach and work on a project investigation with items that most families have in their home, such as shoes, water, hats, or blankets. This blog post has some great tips on doing projects with families from a distance.  Project work allows children to participate at varying levels according to their interests and abilities, making it particularly appealing for inclusive classrooms.  Learn more about inclusion and project work in this blog post.
  • Be aware of families’ access to remote learning. Do families need help obtaining resources? Be flexible because not all families have the same access to a computer/tablet, reliable Internet access, or an adult to help children. Could some resources be provided using worksheets, books, or manipulatives? Learn more about equity and family support in the Episode 4 of the ECTA video series Preschool During the Pandemic.
  • Hold individual video or phone check-ins with families as needed. Ask questions such as: How are you doing? Do you have questions about any activities? How is your child doing? What can I do to help? This CRPE blog post gives more ideas about teacher check-ins. Brainstorming ideas to help a child with disabilities achieve their goals with their family helps to tailor individualized support for their child.
  • Consider how you are doing developmental screening and assessment during remote learning. Assessment is particularly important for children with disabilities to document the progress they have made on their IEP goals. Developmental screening helps to identify children in your class who are not meeting developmental milestones for their age and who could benefit from a formal comprehensive assessment for possible special education services. According to The Institute Blog, families can help with the process. 
  • You are not alone!  Collaborate with any related service providers (e.g., OT, PT, SLP) or assistant teachers and get their input and support to better reach children and families. Episode 3 of the ECTA video series Preschool During the Pandemic shows how preschool teachers work together with service providers.

Stories from the Field - Leaning from Others

Sometimes, learning from other teachers’ experiences lets you know that you are not alone in your day-to-day struggles or small celebrations. Remote teaching is new to most teachers, and we are learning alongside each other! Some of these stories may help give you ideas to become a better remote teacher or simply give you hope that others are in a similar situation.

  • Preschool During the Pandemic: Early Childhood Education in Extraordinary Times
    This 13-episode series from ECTA shares the experiences of practitioners and families from across the country, illustrating how the fields of early education and early childhood special education are successfully supporting preschoolers and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Episodes 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, and 13 specifically address remote learning.
  • Childcare During COVID-19: A Teacher’s Perspective 
    On this IEL podcast, we talk with Kathryn Pannbacker about the impact of COVID-19 on childcare and her work as an early childhood educator. Pannbacker is a preschool head teacher at the Child Development Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In this podcast, she addresses the challenges and joys of working with families using remote learning.  
  • Build a distance learning toolbox for families with the supplies they need at home for learning, such as headphones, math manipulatives, and feelings charts. Learn more about distance learning tool kits in this NAEYC blog.
  • You can learn more about online resources for technology and young children from NAEYC here.

About this Resource

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

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
  • Preschoolers (Age 3 Through Age 5)

Revised: 2021