Here is a summary of the Fairyland breakout session that I presented with my colleague Kelly. Thanks to all who attended!
Aiming for Inclusion at ALSC Institute 2014
What we are talking about: inclusive programs not “special needs” education or designing special programs for special kids. We are also not able to delve into specific features of children with different disabilities and what you might need to know to help include them – we are dealing in generalities, with some suggested techniques that both Kelly and I have found effective in inclusive settings where children with disabilities participate alongside their age peers.
Dealing with disability in history
Among other things, inclusion means we are working towards overcoming systemic exclusion and presumptions of incompetence. This is important to acknowledge: a great deal of social harm occurred/still occurs because of exclusionary practices with regards to those who had/have developmental disabilities/differences. It is important that we each acknowledge our own biases, fears and possible misunderstandings about disability in general as we begin to consider how we might approach our own programs and their inclusiveness.
Inclusion definition from NAEYC/DEC
Early childhood inclusion embodies the values, policies, and practices that support the right of every infant and young child and his or her family, regardless of ability, to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of families, communities, and society. The desired results of inclusive experiences for children with and without disabilities and their families include a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning to reach their full potential. The defining features of inclusion that can be used to identify high quality early childhood programs and services are access, participation, and supports. (see links for URL to this statement)
Building on this definition, and drawing on the work of sociocultural literacy researchers, my own working definition of inclusive early literacy as I conduct my doctoral research is this:
Inclusive early literacy, refers to early literacy policies, discourses, programs, practices and opportunities that consider the needs of diverse children and their families in order for children to participate together in the same setting. One of the aims of inclusive early literacy is to ensure that young children with disabilities are given the same or similar opportunities to have appropriate early literacy experiences as their age peers without disabilities.
What are the implications of this statement and how can children’s librarians aim to emulate it when we create programs for young children and their families?
Since we all agree that everyone is indeed welcome to come to our programs, why are we
- noticing that children with disabilities tend NOT to come to regular programs and
- creating “special” programs just for kids with disabilities?
We could have an entire conference just about barriers but for this discussion we are going to focus on 2 very significant ones and ones that, once addressed, serve to greatly increase the inclusiveness of all of your programs.
- Size of group – why is this important?
- Speech & Language, pacing & comprehension – why is this important?
Some techniques to address some barriers
Language Fun Storytime began as a “special” program: in partnership with speech therapists, children’s librarians deliver small-group storytimes to children who are receiving or waiting for speech-language therapy. The program design was, in a large part, conceived by a speech therapist, who thought that a program that focussed on just one book per week, done 2 or 3 different ways would be appropriate for children with language delays. You can read more about this program in the book called Children’s Services: Partnerships for Success, edited by Betsy Diamant-Cohen. It was. It still is. However, the technique of repeating of only one story, and/or repeating thematic elements of a single story within the program can be applied to more diverse groups of children (what we call “population-based”). This means that the whole population is represented there. Interestingly, Betsy’s newer book “Transforming Preschool Storytime” promotes repetition of stories told in different ways across storytime series. These techniques are inclusive: they consider the needs of children who may need extra time and support to grasp concepts, new words etc. but they remain engaging and developmentally appropriate for children who have typical development.
Here is how this would work with Pete the Cat in a “regular” storytime program where children with diverse abilities were in attendance, along with your other usual storytime elements of songs, fingerplays, dances etc.
- Felt board
- Sock activity
Moe the Mouse ™ Speech and Language Development Program: A Program of the BC Aboriginal Child Care Society
Speech sounds are the building blocks of verbal communication and in order to be understood when speaking, children must learn how to make the speech sounds of a language. (BC Aboriginal Child Care Society, Moe the Mouse ™ Curriculum Book)
Moe the Mouse ™ Curriculum Box is a speech and language resource, created by Speech Language Pathologists, that uses Aboriginal toys and stories to strengthen language development in young children. While developed for childcare settings, this rich resource has elements that can be incorporated into library storytime, including activities that help children produce speech sounds in isolation and then use them in words.
Who is Moe? Moe is a charming little mouse mascot, who brings animal friends with him to storytime, each with their own speech sound. Moe cheers the children on as they use the various speech sounds to participate in storytelling, songs and activities.
Moe the Mouse ™ storytime is population-based and supports children’s language development in a natural setting. It is also a lot of fun!
We all understand that social inclusion & inclusive education is still “a work in progress” in our society. As professionals who serve families, we commit to being part of the progress towards a time when we don’t need to worry about children with disabilities’ (or any other kind of barrier) access to early literacy experiences!
- Investigate the possibility of working with speech therapists and others who serve preschoolers in your community.
- Be open to trying new approaches to regular storytime programs that address some of the barriers we have identified
- Continue to offer “special” programs as a way to build bridges with families whose children have disabilities and to invite their eventual participation in regular programs
NAEYC Inclusion Statements
NAEYC Diversity Statements
My Inclusive Early Literacy Discussion Summary on ALA Connect
Language Fun Storytime Links
Moe the Mouse Links