Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Making the Social Visible within Inclusive Classrooms

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Making the Social Visible within Inclusive Classrooms

Article excerpt

Abstract. There is an increasing need to address children's social development in the midst of academic initiatives for early childhood curricula. A study was conducted to make visible and support children's social interactions within inclusive preschool classrooms through documentation from the Reggio Emilia approach. Findings demonstrated that children's interactions occurred among different configurations within inclusive preschool classrooms, involving: 1) children who were typically developing, 2) children who had certified disabilities, and 3) children who were typically developing and those having certified disabilities. These social interactions occurred within three areas of the classroom context: transitions between routine activities, open-ended activities, and teachers' roles. Implications suggest that documentation techniques can serve as both a research and teaching tool for promoting social interactions among early childhood educators.

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It is not unusual to walk into an early childhood classroom and immediately look for evidence of the children's academic performance. One may look for examples of children's writing, mathematic, or reading skills hung on the walls, or observe how children are engaged in a specific academic task. Academic performance is closely associated with "school readiness," a topic at the forefront of the minds of early childhood educators, families of young children, and policymakers. Much of the general curriculum in preschools and kindergartens emphasizes academic skills in literacy and mathematics as well as other cognitive areas. In addition, children with disabilities often have goals in their individual education plans (IEPs) that reflect academic skills (Guralnick, 2001b).

Given this focus on academic performance, children's social development appears to be hidden or forgotten in the classroom environment (Zins, Weissberg, Wang, & Walberg, 2004). In fact, children who are observed as not being "attentive" to academic tasks may be perceived as "not learning"; or, some may attribute such behavior to the teacher's inability to manage. Although children's social development may have a low profile in classrooms, the benefits of promoting this domain are widely recognized. Children who can learn to interact with adults and other children in a positive manner will develop appropriate negotiating skills in times of conflict; have a sense of belonging and acceptance; and establish attitudes, values, and skills essential for a satisfying life. These benefits not only are important for their learning in schools but also extend into their communities (Forest, 1990; Resnick, 1990).

Researchers have found that inclusive classrooms of both children with disabilities and their typically developing peers can provide opportunities for all children to develop positive social relationships. For example, inclusive preschool classrooms expand the social network of children, especially children with disabilities, beyond their family members, neighbors, and peer group. Lewis, Feiring, and Brooks-Gunn (1988) found in a longitudinal study of 75 mothers of children with disabilities, ages 3 to 6, and a matched sample of typically developing peers, that the child's disabling condition played a much greater role in the social network composition than did his/her chronological age. On a daily basis, children with disabilities had more contact with adults than with peers, while their typically developing peers had more contact with children their own age than with adults (Lewis et al., 1988). The medical and educational needs of children with disabilities require the involvement of more adults in their care. Furthermore, segregation and stigmatization may prevent peer contact and, in turn, hinder a child's opportunity to have positive peer role models in his daily contacts. Odom and Bailey (2001) further document positive social outcomes of children within inclusive classrooms by demonstrating that children with disabilities participate in more social interactions with peers and exhibit more cognitively mature forms of play when they are in classrooms with typically developing peers than when they are in segregated classrooms. …

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