Merging DAP and ECSE practices has presented a challenge and has in itself been a process. The Teaching Research Child Development Center (CDC) started with a vision in mind to develop and implement an environment with supportive, knowledgeable staff that would enhance learning for all children. Representatives from both philosophies (DAP and ECSE) brought expert information to the table and presented their "best practices" or "building materials". Each representative had great conviction and literature support for their set of materials, but how could we put them together to create this visionary environment? The final analysis of what our staff have ended up with can be seen in the figure below. DAP provides the foundation that needs to be in place for all young children to learn, but just implementing DAP principles is not sufficient for children with disabilities. The added supports of ECSE recommended practices are needed to complete the environment (school house) and to meet the needs of children with special needs.
The following are specific examples of how these two practices work in our program:
The DAP foundation provides a rich and well planned environment with many opportunities for all children to learn. ECSE adds to this enriched environment the concept of specific instruction on predetermined (targeted) skills.
The DAP principles recognize assessment as the on-going process of observing, recording, and otherwise documenting the work children do and how they do it. It serves as the basis for planning instructional activities, communicating with parents, identifying children who may need specialized services and for evaluating how well a program is meeting its goals. The inclusion of ECSE practices allows a more comprehensive criterion-referenced assessment to aid in determining more specific, individualized instructional objectives for some children.
The DAP foundation provides opportunities for teachers and parents to communicate regularly through frequent contact, newsletters, and individual notes home. Parents are encouraged to observe and participate in their child's classroom. The ECSE practices recognize the importance of attending to family needs and the child's ability to effectively communicate, therefore, a more detailed daily communication notebook system may be needed. Communication may focus on the specific special needs such as the monitoring of seizures or a specific behavior.
The Quality Child Care Checklist was developed by our program as an instrument to be used in observing the above indicators for DAP and ECSE recommended practices in inclusive preschool/child care programs.
There are several strategies which regular preschool/child care providers can implement to facilitate the inclusion of children with disabilities into their program. This section describes strategies or techniques that are used by the Teaching Research CDC and can be easily incorporated into community preschool programs. These strategies include:
The strategies that are described below not only benefit children with disabilities but can also enhance learning for the other children in the program.
As is discussed in the "Developmentally Appropriate Practice" page, the schedule of preschool activities should include a balance of large group, small group and individual activities with the largest portion of the day devoted to small group activities. Small group time typically involves children selecting from several interest centers.
Well designed interest centers are an important part of the early childhood environment. The opportunities and stimulation provided by well organized interest centers encourage children to initiate play and exploration independently. The broad, general objectives which can be within each center as should be kept in mind as the environment is being planned and designed.
Typical interest centers include:
For a comprehensive description of each of these centers and a discussion
of how centers can be set up, refer to The Creative Curriculum for
Early Childhood (Dodge & Colker, 1992)
There are many reasons why interest centers are an effective means of providing learning opportunities for both children with disabilities and typically developing children. first and foremost, children learn through play and through the active exploration of their environment. Interest centers provide many opportunities for children to play and offer interesting environments which motivate children to use their natural desire to understand the world around them. Interest centers also provide preschool age children opportunities to play with real, concrete materials as they use language and begin to think in terms of classifications, numbers, and relationships. Finally, interest centers provide children with many opportunities to develop social skills and allow children of varying developmental levels to interact and participate with each other.
Incorporating activity based instruction into preschool programs has proven
to be effective in facilitating the inclusion of children with
disabilities into community sites. This strategy allows the active
participation of children with disabilities in the same settings and
activities as their non-disabled peers. This strategy gives the children
with disabilities the opportunity of interacting with their peers while
receiving individualized instruction on their target IEP/IFSP objectives.
Activity based instruction is a natural teaching strategy that can be
easily incorporated into the various interest centers typical of a
developmentally appropriate child care and education setting.
For example, at snack time, there may be a child practicing "requesting objects", another child working on "taking turns", and another practicing "labeling objects." As a teaching strategy, activity based instruction fits well within a DAP environment in the way that it uses the process of naturally occurring activities within the child's environment to teach and practice specific skills identified in the child's IFSP/IEP. In a preschool setting instruction would occur within the events that naturally occur during the typical preschool day and does not include the use of worksheets, dittos, flashcards or drills to teach skills.
There are a number of benefits of using activity based instruction for children with disabilities (Peters, et al, 1992).
The physical arrangement of the classroom affects the way typically
developing and children with disabilities learn and the manner in which
they relate to one another. A well organized classroom can facilitate
the learning and social interactions between children, while a
poorly designed classroom can discourage learning and interaction among
children. There can be a tremendous difference in the learning and
behavior of all children in the classroom by following some simple
guidelines for organizing and arranging the classroom.
A well organized environment helps children in four principal ways:
These outcomes are particularly relevant for children with disabilities. A well organized environment also helps the teacher because children become more independent and teachers spend less time handling problem behaviors. Each of these outcomes are discussed in detail in the video "The New Room Arrangement as a Teaching Strategy" (Dodge, 1991).
Following are some guidelines for arranging the preschool classroom environment as suggested in The Creative Curriculum (Dodge, 1992):
The inclusion of children with disabilities into the regular
preschool/child care setting
can be enhanced by following the suggestions listed above.
For more information, please contact:
Early Childhood & Training Dept.