Imagine a group of teachers and administrators waving a red sting through the air, lovingly pretending it is the infamous squiggle from The Squiggle, a children’s book written by Carole Lexa Schaefer. This is a common scene during a CCEP (Childcare Enhancement with a Purpose) workshop. The CCEP Program Coordinator, Emily Sheets, is talking with Spanish Fort Presbyterian Preschool (SFPP) about strategies for inclusion when it comes to children’s literacy skills.
“It can be very overwhelming for childcare providers when they are tasked with caring for a child with developmental delays, behavioral challenges, or other special needs. They may feel that they are not equipped to care for such a child, or are unsure if they are doing the right thing during daily interactions with the child,” says Emily Sheets of the importance of CCEP’s programs and services. “In situations such as this, CCEP is there to help. We offer simple, practical strategies to childcare providers that empower and equip them to care for children with developmental differences.”
According to the National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education, there are many benefits to inclusive child care. “Children with special needs develop increased social skills and self-esteem; families of children with special needs gain social support and develop more positive attitudes about their child; children and families without special needs become more understanding and accepting of differences and disabilities; caregivers/teacher learn from working with children, families, and service providers and develop skills in individualizing care for all children.”
SFPP is one of the many preschools that CCEP is involved in. Laura Roberts, the Preschool Director, has overseen the relationship between the Preschool and UCP for nearly three years. “The difference UCP makes in our program is wide and varies greatly – the UCP resources are invaluable to early childcare educators,” says Roberts.
According to Roberts, she has seen three major benefits from SFPP’s time working with UCP’s Childcare Enhancement with a Purpose. First of these benefits is having a UCP staff member provide an inclusive activity for the classroom. “This has been a great source of role modeling for the staff as well as providing the children with a great activity,” says Roberts. UCP staff seeks to show childcare providers the best techniques to bring in to an inclusive classroom.
The second benefit is the educational in-service which is hosted with members of the SFPP staff. Emily Sheets will provide a training session that includes a presentation as well as hands-on activities the teachers can incorporate in the classroom the next day. For the session mentioned earlier, teachers were given books as well as sensory items they could use as an interactive piece during story time. This is beneficial to all children, but it also provides a different way to teach a child who may learn differently.
Finally, the UCP staff acts as a sounding board for teachers and parents when it comes to the individualized care for children with special needs. “After discussing a certain child’s situation by phone, UCP staff will come by the preschool with written information that pertains to the concern, they will observe and make recommendations that are helpful to the student,” Roberts said.
One preschool teacher spoke about a specific instance in her classroom. “For one particular student, we were given two types of seats for them to use. It allowed my student to sit on the rug in a large group setting, but still be able to move around a bit… We also have a box of sensory toys that help my student calm down… the variety of items included holds her attention long enough for her to focus on them instead of what is bothering her,” the teacher mentioned. These are concrete ways that the advice is being used in order to have a child with special needs included in the classroom setting while still getting the special care and attention that is required.
CCEP is funded by Alabama DHR and offers free inclusion training to childcare providers statewide. Members of CCEP staff go in to schools and share simple, practical ways to work with and include children with special needs in childcare centers and family/group childcare homes. This is one of UCP’s many programs that are working within the education system to promote our mission – promoting the independence, productivity and full citizenship of people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities.