Academic journal article School Community Journal

Inclusive Prekindergarten Classrooms in a New Era: Exploring the Perspectives of Teachers in the United States

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Inclusive Prekindergarten Classrooms in a New Era: Exploring the Perspectives of Teachers in the United States

Article excerpt

Introduction

For over 35 years, the inclusion of young children with disabilities in general education settings has been a dominant topic for consideration in the field of early childhood education. Researchers and practitioners have long been concerned with issues of access and equity in regard to high quality early childhood education for all children, including those with disabilities. The reauthorization of federal legislation in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004) mandated that young children with disabilities in the United States receive a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment (LRE). LRE also mandates that young children with disabilities have the opportunity to attend the same early childhood programs as their nondisabled peers to the greatest extent possible. The civil rights legislation in the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2009 (ADAAA) also prohibited discrimination against individuals with disabilities and guaranteed equal opportunities in all areas of public life, including daycare centers.

Best practices in early childhood education point to the potential benefits of inclusion for young children (Mogharreban & Bruns, 2009; Soukakou, Winton, West, Sideris, & Rucker, 2015). Research suggests that early education programs can positively influence both school participation and outcomes for children with disabilities (Phillips & Meloy, 2012). However, the inclusion of children with disabilities can take many different forms. As a result, questions persist regarding the precise meaning of inclusion in early childhood settings as well as its potential implications for policy, practice, and outcomes (DEC/ NAEYC Position Statement, 2009). In an effort to further define inclusion and better identify the key components of high quality inclusive preschool programs in the U.S., the Council for Exceptional Children Division of Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) issued a joint statement in 2009. According to the DEC/ NAEYC joint position statement, inclusion is defined as 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 DEC/ NAEYC joint statement also states that the desired results of inclusive experiences for young children and their families should include a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning that fosters their full potential (DEC/NAEYC, 2009).

Merging the fields of early childhood education and early childhood special education in ways that fully reflect the intent of the 2009 DEC/NAEYC position statement presents a range of challenges for inclusive prekindergarten settings in the U.S. According to Darragh (2007), a primary challenge is the ongoing lack of an organizing framework for teaching practices, curriculum, and environmental design. As a result, many early childhood educators find themselves struggling to create high quality inclusive prekindergarten classroom settings that effectively serve all children (Salend, 2008). Additionally, there are critical differences in how early childhood stakeholders (e.g., general education teachers, special education teachers, families, administrators, related service providers, etc.) conceptualize the most effective delivery of services to children (Frankel, Gold, & Ajodhia-Andrews, 2010).

Although individual states vary in their provision of inclusive prekindergarten programs, the guiding principles of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act encourage such programs to become viable and welcome settings for young children with disabilities (Darragh, 2007). Since what is considered an appropriate level of supports and services can vary considerably in inclusive prekindergarten classrooms in the U. …

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