Learning Language Learners

Question: I’m a Head Start teacher, and my class this year has more children than ever who don’t speak much or any English. It’s hard for them to learn the rules or even make friends, and I worry that they will still be behind once they start kindergarten. What can I do to help them learn English faster? It’s also hard to engage with their parents, because even with the ones who do speak some English there are often still communication or cultural barriers.

Answer: It’s no surprise that you’re seeing this trend in your class; a recent national survey indicates that nearly a third of children in Head Start programs across the country are dual language learners, or DLLs. Teachers (and parents) sometimes worry that children who start school – preschool or kindergarten — without knowing English will be at a social and educational disadvantage compared to their native-speaking peers. The good news is that research has shown that bilingual children end up with language skills that are as good or better than those of their single-language peers. It turns out that knowing more than one language is actually good for your brain!

And the easiest time to learn a new language, of course, is in the first few years of life. So the best way you can help your dual-language learners is to fully and consciously support their mastery of BOTH languages. Encourage them to communicate however they feel comfortable; after all, many young children are not yet truly fluent in any language, and communicate through body language, facial expression, and other nonverbal means. Demonstrate through your actions that even if you don’t speak the same language they do, you want to communicate with them, you value what they have to say and will work with them to make the process less frustrating.

This spirit of inclusiveness goes beyond having shelf labels in Spanish, or a few “multicultural” books on the shelf. Think about walking into a classroom in a foreign country. What are some things that might help you feel more comfortable, or at home? Include family pictures, as well as images, music, and food from their individual cultures. This is a great opportunity to involve families by asking them for contributions of particular items, recipes, or time. Parents can come for visits to share a story or song in their native language, or cook with the whole class. It can also go a long way to make an effort to learn a few key words in your students’ native languages, both to make communication easier and to demonstrate your commitment to an inclusive environment.

Reaching out to non-native English speaking parents can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. Many programs – Head Start among them – often have bilingual teachers, administrators, and interpreters, and offer resources for parents and families to attend English classes. This is also something your local government sometimes provides, so check the web for multilingual resources. Many programs offer printed documents in multiple languages, which can help families access important information as well as help create a more inclusive, welcoming center environment.

Families and young children need to have the experience of their home language being appreciated and recognized, in order to create a real feeling of belonging in school. This will help children feel more comfortable more quickly – and, as we all know, children who feel at home and supported in classrooms will learn more easily – and help their parents begin to feel more confident navigating what might be an unfamiliar school system to advocate for their children. The contributions of culturally diverse families are hugely valuable to individual centers as well as communities as a whole. Fortunately, as early childhood professionals we are in a good position to mitigate some of the challenges of dual language learners, and help every child get a great start in school.

Child Care By Any Other Name

Question: Can you explain the difference between daycares, child development centers, and preschools? People use all these different terms when they ask what I’m planning for my baby, and I don’t understand what they are actually referring to.

Answer: Folks are often confused about these terms, which are sometimes used interchangeably, although they do have slightly different meanings. Many early childhood professionals dislike the term “daycare,” because of its connotation of babysitting that belies the amount of hard work, preparation, and expertise that qualified teachers bring to the field. However, many families often still use this term without quite knowing what it means.

“Daycare” usually refers to a center-based or home-based setting where there is little or no expectation of much structure, or of intentional, developmentally-appropriate learning experiences provided for children. Children are usually (though not always) grouped by age, and provided with age-appropriate materials, with adult caregivers mostly there to meet children’s basic needs and provide sufficient supervision for safety.

Child development centers typically have a more structured approach, and focus on helping children reach their developmental milestones. They may do more in the way of assessment than daycares, and have an established curriculum and lesson plans to guide what teachers are doing with children. There often is more consistency between the various classrooms, so that children will be exposed to similar teaching and interaction styles from one room to the next.

Preschool usually refers to the year before kindergarten, and many preschool or pre-k programs have a more academic focus that is intended to prepare children for the skills and behaviors that will be expected of them once they start school.

All of this being said, because these are not official terms, many high-quality, developmentally-appropriate programs are sometimes referred to as daycares (either by the families that use them, or even the programs themselves), and there can certainly be child development centers and preschools that do little more than offer basic care. The best way to select a place for your child is to get recommendations from parents you trust, and visit. Talk to the director and the teachers; observe interactions in the classroom and the daily routine of the class your child would be joining. Try to visit more than once to see different times of the day, and decide whether it’s a good fit for your child and your family’s needs.

Best Laid Plans

Question: I’m a toddler teacher and my director has been talking about how I need to do lesson plans for my kids. My center doesn’t have a particular curriculum we have to use, and honestly I think babies and toddlers are too young for lesson plans. By the time we get through all the diapering, feeding, changing clothes, going outside, and napping, we hardly have time for anything but just loving on them. Aren’t toddlers too young for a lot of formal lessons?

Answer: We are in whole-hearted agreement that toddlers are, indeed, too young for “formal lessons,” or any type of instruction that involves sitting and listening to teachers for long periods. Toddlers and young children are hands-on learners, and learn best through play and active engagement with materials.

That being said, when done correctly lesson plans can be very helpful, even with toddlers. This doesn’t mean you have to plan every moment of their day, or get so invested in a plan that you’re frustrated if you don’t get through it all. Lesson planning for toddlers often means just having a general idea of what you want to focus on for a day, week, or month, in order to keep offering creative experiences for them. In some ways, they’re more for the teacher than the children. It’s easy to keep pulling out the same favorite toys or sensory materials, because you have a thousand other things to think about, and the fingerpaint has worked before. But toddlers like novelty, too, and if you have a lesson plan in mind, even something as simple as “this week we’ll be talking about balls,” it can lead to new and interesting experiences for them. You might offer a box of plush balls indoors, focus on the circle puzzle, or share some books or pictures about children playing with balls. If some of your children don’t participate in any of this, it’s okay; it’s meant to be an invitation, not a requirement that they master the art & science of all things spherical by Friday.

It’s easy enough, even without a specific curriculum, to Google “toddler + ball” (or any topic) and get loads of ideas for activities, books, and songs. There are also blank lesson plan templates available online aimed at toddlers, if you don’t want to create your own. You can fill in your ideas for the week – which activities or materials you will plan to offer each day – so you’re organized and prepared, rather than frantically searching for an activity in a chaotic moment.

Having a plan in mind can also make it easier for teachers to guide young children’s play intentionally. For example, imagine a toddler playing with foam blocks on her own. She might chew on them, stack a couple, throw them, and examine them. An attentive teacher playing next to can add so much to her experience. A teacher might encourage her to notice the colors, shapes, sizes, and textures of the balls, point out and naming these qualities for her. The teacher might toss or roll the ball to the child and encourage her to roll or toss it back, both to model play and also to get important information about the child’s development – does she favor one hand or the other? Does she have the hand/eye coordination to catch or kick yet? The child is getting an experience full of new language and conceptual development, as well as just enjoying the equally important emotional connection of having fun with a caring, attentive adult. The teacher is getting to offer a new experience, and some insight into a particular child’s developmental milestones.

Anxiety and Bleach

Question: My two-year-old son is getting ready to start child care, and my friends have told me he needs to stop using his pacifier because it won’t be allowed in the classroom. Is this true? He’s used to having it whenever he’s upset or goes to sleep, and it seems like his first few weeks in childcare will be stressful and he’ll need it more, not less.

Answer: Policies about children having pacifiers and “lovies” in classrooms vary from center to center, and are unfortunately not always child-centered. Many directors and teachers have concerns about the challenges that these items present in the face of sanitation rules they need to follow – for example, if a child with a pacifier in his mouth drops it and another child picks it up, the pacifier should be sanitized. Similarly, if a stuffed animal that a child has been holding with unwashed hands (or possibly chewed on) touches a sanitized surface, that surface would need to be re-sanitized.

Although providers have legitimate concerns about sanitation issues, many centers also understand the importance of comfort items like pacifiers and lovies in young children’s success at adjusting to being in a group care situation, and learning to self-regulate. Group care settings are stressful for young children, especially at the beginning of a school year when the teachers and other children are not yet familiar. It is the responsibility of caregivers to make this transition as smooth as possible, which means providing developmentally appropriate comfort and responsiveness based on a child’s individual needs. For some children, this would mean offering a pacifier or favorite stuffed animal or blanket until they are able to find other ways to soothe themselves.

Directors and teachers can be overly zealous in their focus on sanitation rules, sometimes due to an incomplete understanding of what the rules really are. “Caring for Our Children,” a document that outlines the rules and regulations for child care providers, addresses the procedures for children having pacifiers and lovies in care situations, and does not prohibit their use.  It does provide specific guidelines about washing and storage, as well as policies to ensure safe use. It is, of course, important to make every effort to keep a child care environment clean and free of possible contaminants. However, the emotional impact on an infant or toddler who is in a new, stressful situation and not allowed access to familiar self-soothing techniques also needs serious consideration. Caring for children’s emotional needs is not less important than attending to the cleanliness of the environment.

It will be important for your child’s well-being to find out what your specific center’s policies are around this issue, and see if it feels like a good fit based on your child’s temperament and needs. You can ask the director as well as the teachers what they do when children have trouble calming themselves down, and how they help children adjust to the classroom routine. You also can observe a class in action on a visit, and pay attention to how teachers react to children who are upset or anxious. Although your son won’t be able to use a pacifier forever, the weaning process goes best when it’s done gently and gradually, in a way that allows him to still feel safe and secure.

Early Intervention Worries

Question: My child’s teacher gave me a form the other day asking permission to get her evaluated for speech delays. I know my daughter is shy and doesn’t talk much in unfamiliar situations, but I don’t think she has any delays! Do I have to have her evaluated? What happens if she won’t talk to the tester either? She’s 3 years old and has only been at this center for a few months.

Answer: It’s always upsetting when someone expresses concern about your child’s development, whether or not it’s one you share. Sometimes attentive teachers can tend to err on the side of caution out of a desire to make sure all our children get what they need to be successful. Having seen so many children over so many years, though, experienced early childhood teachers usually have a pretty good sense of what is typical for a child of a given age. So if your child’s teacher has concerns, it may make sense to heed them.

But, you know your child best, and many young children do behave differently at home and at school. You are under no obligation to have your child evaluated if you feel it’s unnecessary. On the other hand, the evaluations are free and can offer you a different perspective on your child than you may have gotten before. Speech delays are quite common for young children, and are often easily ameliorated with brief intervention. If that is in fact what’s going on, your child could benefit from receiving services before she starts school. Ongoing speech and communication issues can adversely affect any child’s ability to be successful academically and socially, but the earlier they are identified, the more easily they can be addressed. Since your daughter is 3, she would be entitled to receive services through the county or city where you live, were she to qualify.

If you do decide to go ahead with an evaluation, most testers try to see children in familiar environment: they will often work with a child in her own classroom or home. It could be that your daughter needs more time to adjust to the preschool environment, and will talk more as time goes on. Some questions to consider as you decide what to do: when your daughter does speak, do most of her words make sense? Can she make most sounds correctly and clearly? Has her pediatrician ever mentioned a concern? When you’re in an environment where she’s relaxed – with family, for example, or at friends’ homes – does she speak willingly, and is she generally understood by other children or adults who don’t know her well?

It may also be worth considering expanding your daughter’s opportunities to become more comfortable in a variety of situations. Library story times, Play and Learn groups, or any informal chance to interact with other children and adults can be helpful. Many children (and adults) can become tongue-tied when they aren’t sure what to do or say in a particular social situation, so practice with her. Having a sense of what to expect from others, and what to say in response, can help increase her confidence and ease in unfamiliar settings.

And finally, whether or not your daughter ends up qualifying for services, do check in with her teacher regularly about her progress. Teachers get a different perspective than parents, and they can be a valuable source of information and insight about your child.

 

 

Ready for Kindergarten Readiness?

Question: I’m the parent of a 4-year-old, and I keep getting questions from my friends and family about what I’m doing to get her “ready for kindergarten.” I’ve been lucky to be able to stay home with her, so she hasn’t had to be in day care. Just this year she’s been going to a half-day mixed-age program at our church, and she loves it, but I know it’s much different from what she’ll find next year. I’m worried that she might not know everything they will expect her to know when she starts school. How can I tell if my daughter is “ready,” and if she’s not, what can I do now to get her there?

Answer: “Kindergarten readiness” has become quite the buzzterm in the past few years, as school systems have increasingly moved to a high stakes testing model that penalizes teachers and schools if children are not performing at a certain level in each grade. This has contributed to making the early school years far more academic than they once were. A generation ago, most children did not even attend kindergarten, and when they started first grade they were not expected to know letters, numbers, or colors already: that’s what they were there to learn.

Now, though, it’s a different story. The increased pressure on teachers and school systems has been passed right down to kids, who are expected to master complex academic skills like beginning reading in the first few months of kindergarten. Many schools have also reduced play time and specials for young children in the hopes that more time focused on rigorous academics will speed up learning and boost scores.

The nature of children, of course, has not changed nearly as much as expectations have. Most children entering kindergarten are five years old, with brains that still require lots of rest, exploratory play, and hands-on learning. Although some five-year-olds are ready to sit quietly for long periods, learning abstract skills, many more are not. An increasing number of children are identified as having ADHD and other behavioral issues, which many experts believe is due in part to unrealistic expectations that their brains and bodies are simply not ready to cope with.

But, don’t panic! An enormous body of research has shown that children’s test scores and reading proficiency actually go up when they are given time to run around, use their whole bodies, and engage in free play periods throughout the day, and some school systems are trying to shift back to this model. Research also shows that the most important skills children come to kindergarten with are not about letters and numbers: children who succeed in school come in knowing how to make friends, interact with adults appropriately, follow directions, and are curious about learning.

Helping your child get ready for school really means teaching her how to learn, and exposing her to a variety of different social situations. A half-day program is great for that, as is interacting children in informal play settings like a park. Helping her feel confident as a learner also has a huge impact, so spend lots of time listening to her questions – 4-year-olds usually have tons – and helping her think through problems or topics she’s curious about. For example, if she asks what makes a car go, take her to the library to find basic books about engineering and mechanics. Talk to a mechanic with her, or a friend who likes to fix cars, and see if she can get a first-hand look at the insides of a vehicle. These types of experiences will give her a sense of herself as curious, smart, and capable, and be a great foundation for learning of all kinds once she starts school.

As always, you know your child best. If you really have concerns about her development, definitely talk to your pediatrician. I’d also encourage you to check in regularly with her teachers, to get a feel for whether they think she’s on track. Teachers can be a fantastic resource about child development and the types of skills that are realistic to expect at different ages. And remember that all children grow and learn in their own ways, at different rates and often in non-linear patterns. The best way to get your child ready for challenges at any age is to support her social and emotional development, encourage her unique interests, personality, and learning style, and help identify the type of environment in which she can best thrive.

Whether the Weather

Question: My director is always bugging me to take my kids outside, even when it’s cold or wet. I don’t mind that much myself, but as soon as they get out there they get wet and muddy, and half the time they don’t have clothes to change into, and their parents get upset. We have a pretty big multi-purpose room I can take them to for gross motor, so it’s not like they never get to run around. Is there actually a rule about this?

Answer: Licensing laws do require an hour outside every day for a full-day program, weather permitting. And going outside every day has huge benefits for children and teachers in terms of mood, physical health, and development. It can be tricky, though, if your outside space isn’t in great condition, or if the weather makes every change of scenery a major change of wardrobe as well. If you’ve got children who aren’t yet dressing themselves, or parents who don’t supply extra clothes, the challenges increase.

Indoors gross motor is a great option, but should ideally happen in addition to outside time, not as a replacement. Going outside helps strengthen children’s immune systems and prevent illness from spreading. It also stimulates curiosity about nature and science topics that children love to engage in: watching birds or clouds, finding leaves or pinecones, even investigating mud puddles, can all be great starting points for science learning. Many teachers and centers make outdoor learning a cornerstone of their curriculum, because there are so many possibilities for using materials in creative ways: painting with sticks, counting stones, building structures out of loose parts, etc. Bringing art outside minimizes the worry about messing up the classroom, and voices or music that would be too noisy inside are just fine on the playground.

A well-designed outdoor environment does minimize drainage problems, and provides a variety of surfaces for children to experience. If your playground has major water issues, or is just not meeting the needs of your children due to safety concerns or space constraints, it might be a good idea to talk to your director or board about what can be done. There are grants available to help centers improve their outdoor environments without too much financial strain.

It can help to include a statement in your parent information packet explaining your center’s policy: “The outdoors is a fundamental part of our learning environment here at the center, so we go outside almost every day, except in a case of severe weather. The space was carefully designed to provide opportunities for young children to strengthen their minds and bodies. Your children might get wet or dirty, so it’s important for their comfort and safety that they have at least one full set of extra clothes to change into, including shoes.” Enlist your director’s help in making sure parents understand that this is a requirement of the program.

You may need to talk through the importance of outside time with some parents, but it pays to be persistent. Due to safety concerns and lifestyle changes, children rarely get to play outside today the way they did in past generations. As adults, our fondest memories often center on running through our neighborhoods or local wild spaces with other children, playing freely with whatever we found. Even if that’s not possible for most of today’s children, we can still do our best to provide them with a chance to explore nature freely, building skills and confidence no matter what the season.

Intentionality

Intentionality

Question: I am a director at a large center, and some of my teachers are showing signs of burn out. They seem uninterested in their jobs, and are not receptive when I try to talk with them about doing something different. How can I help them become more engaged and feel supported?

Answer: Being a teacher is stressful, no doubt about it. Many teachers do struggle with feeling burnt out due to many factors. As a director, it can also be hard to meet all your teachers’ needs in ways that feel effective. One thing that can help, though, is thinking intentionally. The authors of a book called Coaching with Powerful Interactions talk about this idea, as well as some researchers at the Fred Rogers Center. These authors provide a model for connecting with your teachers at a deeper level, rather than staying in crisis mode, making it possible for you to collaborate for change.

Directors are often used to leading from above – you notice something your staff member is not doing correctly, and you address it by pointing out the mistake and asking/telling the teacher how to correct it. Sometimes you might offer – or require – additional training or assistance, but you are essentially pointing out for the teacher what she is doing “wrong” and how to “fix it.”

Intentional coaching offers another method entirely for relating to teachers, one that focuses more on collaborating with the teacher. This starts with you being willing to dedicate some time to observing teachers, looking for strengths and positive behaviors. It also requires you to be reflective, and set aside some unrushed time to really have a conversation with a teacher, not just a few words at her doorway. For example, if you have noticed a teacher underperforming or seeming uninterested in her work, you might spend a morning observing her classroom, and then schedule a meeting at a time and place where you are unlikely to be interrupted. Start by inviting her to talk with you about how she feels things are going. If she feels frustrated or defeated about a particular area, let her take the lead to talk about that. Do everything you can to ensure that she feels that her concerns are heard and validated before moving into talking about solutions.

When you offer feedback and ideas, stay positive: for example, if the teacher is frustrated by her children not listening during transitions, offer one thing you have observed her doing well during this period, even if it’s something very small. Rather than agreeing with her that it never goes well, offer feedback such as, “When I saw your class in the hall the other day, I noticed that you were holding one child’s hand, and that child was really paying attention to what you were saying. That was great, because it’s hard to get that child to focus, but you did!” Help the teacher reflect on how she can use and expand on what is working to increase overall success: “I hear you that getting them through the hall to the playground is really frustrating. I wonder what you’ve done that has worked sometimes, because it’s not always equally difficult.”

These types of interactions do take time, something directors often don’t have much of. But you’re teaching valuable skills around self-reflection that can actually end up making your meetings and interactions with teachers go much more efficiently.  You’re also helping build a relationship of collaboration and trust, which takes you out of the role of being the “boss” or the “bad guy” all the time, and helps the teacher see you as an ally, someone with useful resources and knowledge. One of the big problems in the field right now is high teacher turnover, which many teachers attribute to feeling unappreciated and unsupported. Using powerful interactions with teachers can help keep your staff happier and more likely to stay at your center.

The other benefit of using intentionality with teachers is that it models a way for them to use similar techniques in their classrooms. Really connecting with children can help teachers who are feeling burnt-out as well, because it brings them back to the most important and satisfying part of the job – building relationships with children. Powerful Interactions is a book that focuses on teacher/child interactions, and can be a useful resource for you to work with.

Family Child Care Homes

Question: Ever since I had my first child, I’ve been taking care of my kids and some friends’ kids while they are at work. I’m a stay-at-home mom with a big basement and fenced yard, and I love having babies around. I’ve actually had a number of other friends ask if I can take their kids too. I’ve thought about opening a real center in my home, but that seems like a huge undertaking. Is there something in the middle I can do?

Answer: The arrangement you’re describing is what we call family/friend/neighbor care – informal child care arrangements where an unlicensed caregiver takes in the children of people they know. It’s actually pretty common in Buncombe County, because, as you are undoubtedly aware, there is a critical shortage of child care spots available, especially for infants and toddlers.

Turning your informal arrangement into licensed family child care home can seem daunting at first, but there are many, many benefits to both you and the community. First of all, if you keep more than 2 children who are not related to you for more than 4 hours a day, you legally must be licensed under North Carolina law. This does mean some paperwork and regulations, depending on how many children you want to care for, their ages, and the current specifications of your house and yard. 

But, getting licensed allows you to care for more children, often at higher rates, leading to more income. You can also claim your house and property (as well as any renovations you may need to make) as business expenses on your taxes, giving you a higher profit margin. Enrolling in the federal lunch program can also save you lots of money if you want to provide meals. And creating more slots for quality child care is something that can help everyone in Buncombe County.

A good first step is to come to our Family Child Care Home Q&A on March 14th from 6:00-7:00. There will be experienced Family Child Care Home providers and licensing consultants to answer your questions and help get your process started. You can register at this link, or call 407.2058:   https://www.eventbrite.com/e/resources-for-informal-in-home-child-care-providers-tickets-32189528747

Inclusion and Special Needs

Special Needs & Inclusion – February 13th, 2017

Question: It seems like every year I have more kids with “special needs” in my room. They can be really hard to deal with, and I’m not a specialist in all their different disorders. The other kids don’t get to do all the interesting things I used to do as a teacher because I’m spending so much time and energy on a few kids, and we can’t even have all the materials I used to have. I want ALL children to have a good preschool experience, and this seems impossible right now. Is there anything I can do about this?

Answer: Many teachers report having more children with diagnoses or learning differences than they used to, and while the jury is still out as to why that is – changing diagnostics, or changes in the environment that are causing more issues – teachers are trusted to provide the best early learning experience they can to all children they have.

If you feel like you’re not equipped to handle the needs of children in your care, the first step is to be proactive and educate yourself. There are literally hundreds of books and other resources that can help you get a better handle on a particular diagnosis. You can even start by googling “best practices early childhood autism,” or “cerebral palsy early childhood” to get some starting points. It’s likely that you can find local or online trainings to take.

If that seems too overwhelming, any child with an IEP or IFSP has specialists (sometimes a team of them) that can be great resources. Schedule a time to talk in person or over the phone outside the chaos of the classroom, and explain that you need some concrete tips that will help you support this child. After all, 10 children with the same diagnosis can all have very different needs and abilities. It’s most important to focus on the one right in front of you.

Having children with a wide range of needs and abilities – inclusion – can be tricky, especially at first. Rather than focusing on what you “can’t” do with your class, however, get creative to figure out how you can make experiences work for everyone. For example, if you have a child who tries to eat paint or playdough every time it’s available, don’t use that as a reason to never do paint or playdough. You may need to carefully design those experiences, so that a teacher can sit with the eater and give one-on-one attention. If the child is receiving services or therapy in the classroom (which is considered best practice), talk to the child’s therapist(s) and see if painting or playdough would be appropriate activities to have open while the therapist is there.  Sometimes children with special needs qualify for a one-on-one at least part of the day to help with supervision and more intensive work.

But the goal here isn’t to isolate the child with a one-on-one or other adult. The goal of inclusion is to recognize all children as valuable members of the classroom community, to inspire a spirit of belonging that extends to everyone, whether a child has a disability, or is just extremely shy and lacks social skills. Start from a place where you, as the teacher, recognize every child’s intrinsic gifts and challenges. Yes, of course some children fit more easily in the classroom environment, but all children do grow, progress, and learn, each in their own ways. What a good day looks like for one child – learning to write her name, for example – can look very different for another child, who finally said her first words, but both are experiencing meaningful growth.

Provide opportunities for children with disabilities to engage in structured, special activities with another child or two who may be a good fit because of energy level, temperament, or interests. Find ways for children with disabilities to be in leadership roles, too, whether it’s helping the teacher by carrying things, pointing to images while singing or reading, or asking them to show the rest of the class how they do something special. It’s never too early to start a conversation in response to the questions children will naturally have about why one child cannot yet walk, or talks strangely, or acts unpredictably. Emphasizing to your class that we all learn differently, and we care about and help all our friends equally is something even young children understand. It may take a little more work, especially at the beginning, but the benefits of inclusion for children with special needs are tremendous, as are the benefits for typically developing children who will learn how to interact with and have empathy for people different from themselves.

Keep in mind too that building this awareness in young children can go a long way in changing how society treats people with all types of difference. Not so long ago, children who were deaf, for example, were considered unteachable and institutionalized. Having children with any type of disability or difference was viewed as shameful, and the children were often taken from their families. It is a long, ongoing battle for parents of children with special needs to make sure their educational rights are honored under the law. Typically developing or otherwise, no one really knows the capacity and potential of a child until she is in an environment that can help her grow.