As of July 1, 2014 Project PREPARE is an Archived program of The Institute for Disability Studies however the mission of PREPARE continues under the management of the Early Years Network.  Please visit their site for continued support and information.

-What is inclusive child care?
-Who is the child with special needs?
-Why is this child in my class?
-Will I need special skills or equipment to accept children with special needs into my center? 
-How do I get started? 
-How do I refer to children with special needs? 
-What are the benefits of inclusion?
-I have a child with a disability that is starting at my center, what do I say to the other kids in my class? 
-I currently have no children with special needs in my class, but I still want the children in my class to be aware of different abilities, what can I do? 
-What is an IEP and an IFSP? 
-If I suspect a child in my class may have a delay, how do I approach his/her parents? 

What is inclusive child care? 

An inclusive early childhood education program Project PREPARE Posteris one that provides quality care and education to ALL children. All children should feel valued and welcomed. A fully inclusive center ensures that the program fits the needs and interests of all children, and all children participate in every activity. Caring for children with disabilities can be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences for a child care center. Inclusion isn't always easy, and it is certainly an ongoing process, but the benefits are much greater than the challenges. 

Best practices in an inclusive childcare center are not different from best practices for another childcare center. Inclusion simply means providers have worked to create a program where children's individual needs are met, regardless of whether or not they have a special need. 

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Who is the child with special needs? 

We know all children have needs, and they are all special. The needs of some children, however, are greater than or different from those of the typical child. The special needs might be in the area of mental, social, emotional, or physical development. Special needs may be mild to moderate to severe in range. Whatever the range of the disability, children with special needs are more like other children than they are different - they play, make friends, grow, and develop. 

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Why is this child in my class? 

There are a number of reasons for placing a child with special needs in regular early childhood programs. Legislation passed in recent years at state and federal levels requires children to be educated in the "least restrictive" or "natural" environment. The setting in which children with special needs are educated should be the same as that in which typical children are educated. But the reasons for including children with special needs go beyond legal requirements. 

  • Children with special needs learn from typical children. 
  • Developmental expectations are more realistic. 
  • Children with special needs are perceived as being less different if they are part of the same environment as other children. 
  • Attitudes of typical children can be positively affected toward persons who are different  
  • A typical natural environment provides more opportunities for children with special needs to interact with caregivers, peers, toys, and other developmentally appropriate materials. 

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Will I need special skills or equipment to ac ept children with special needs into my center? 

Caring for children with special needs requires the same basic skills needed to care for any child. It means providing a developmentally appropriate environment for all children. Some children with special needs will use specialized equipment, but many do not. Most toys and activities are appropriate or can be easily adapted if necessary. 

 A common concern is whether additional resources will be required that a center does not have or cannot afford. These are legitimate concerns; however, such issues can generally be resolved and should be seen as opportunities for problem solving, not as reason for denying the inclusion of children with special needs. Collaboration with community services such as Part C Early Intervention or public schools should occur if a child has significant needs that cannot be met through the childcare center alone.

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How do I get started? 

The most natural way is when the family of a child with special needs approaches you about serving their child; listen carefully to them as they are the best source of information on the needs and care of their child. Ask them questions about their child's care and become a part of the team serving the child. Other ways to get started include attend a Project PREPARE training, contact the First Steps office or public school in your area to express your interest in including children with special needs in your program. 

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How do I refer to children with special needs? 

People-first language is the appropriate way to refer to people with disabilities. It puts the person before the disability. Children with disabilities are children first. The only labels they need are their names. Only refer to the child's disability when it is relevant to a question or discussion. Be aware of the specific terms that the family uses to refer to the nature of the special needs. Some families are uncomfortable with terms such as "mental retardation." Pay attention to the words they use and be sensitive. Remember our language is an extension of our attitude! 


It is critical to communicate respect for each child to children, parents, and other professionals. For assistance with using person-first language, contact an early intervention specialist with the Institute for Disability Studies. 

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What are the benefits of inclusion? 

For children with disabilities: increased frequency of social interaction, the opportunity to learn from their peers, access to programs that involve "typical peers," more focus on the child rather than the disability 

For children without disabilities: exposure to children of all abilities, appreciation for diversity and acceptance of difference, the opportunity to learn from peers that may have different abilities 

For families of children with disabilities: acceptance of difference and appreciation of diversity, enriched programming for their own children, a deeper understanding of the differing needs of all children 

For caregivers: opportunities for professional development, unique personal challenges and rewards, acceptance of all children and appreciation for diversity, work-related satisfaction 

For communities: enriched community programs that include all children regardless of ability, focus on individuality and diversity, appreciation for the contributions of all community members, compassionate citizens 

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I have a child with a disability that is starting at my center, what do I say to the other kids in my class? 

Young children are typically very curious about people in their "world." Childcare professionals can help children understand and celebrate differences and similarities about their peers through conversations. 

When a child with a disability is about to begin your program, a teacher may want to read a book about children with disabilities or a specific disability. Suggestions include: 

  • A Very Special Critter by Mercer Meyer 
  • We Can Do It by Laura Dwight 
  • We'll Paint the Octopus Red by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen and Pam Devito 
  • What's Wrong with Timmy? by Maria Shriver 
  • Rolling Along with Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Cindy Meyers and Carol Morgan 
  • Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus 

Give the children in your class time to meet the child and then answer questions as they come up in a simple manner. For instance, if a child says, "Why doesn't Chris walk?" a teacher can respond by "His muscles are not as strong as yours, so he is able to move around in a wheelchair." The teacher should not address the disability unless a child asks a specific question about a difference related to the syndrome. 

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I currently have no children with special needs in my class, but I still want the children in my class to be aware of different abilities, what can I do? 

It is important for all children to learn about difference, including differences in ability, race, culture, gender, and age. By placing books and posters around the classroom that represent differences in people, children become more accepting of differences. Teachers may want to add a weekly theme titled "I am special" for children to read and learn about disabilities, differences, and uniqueness and how all children are special in their own way. 

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What is an IEP and an IFSP? 

Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a written plan describing services, providers, locations, and goals for services for children over the age of three years. It is written by a team of individuals and coordinated by the local school district. Priorities are more pre-academic or academic in nature, and services are provided in a least-restrictive environment (to the maximum extent possible. Students with disabilities must be included in a regular classroom with appropriate aids and typically developing peers). 

Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) is a written plan describing services, providers, locations, and goals for services and supports provided to child from birth through age 2 years old and the child's family. It is prepared by a team that includes the family, childcare providers, therapists, and special instructors. Services are family focused and provided in a natural environment (setting in the community where the typical infant or toddler participates, such as his/her home or child care). 

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If I suspect a child in my class may have a delay, how do I approach his/her parents? 

The best way to prepare families for this type of discussion is to make sure that your philosophy emphasizes ongoing parent education and support. 

Frequently provide all families with information pertaining to child development, resources in the community, and suggestions on how to promote developmental skills at home. Caregivers that are familiar with what a typical 2-year-old is doing are more apt to recognize red flags in their own child. This information can be in the form of print materials, videos, or Internet. 

Provide information on development during parent workshops and open houses. This can be a great way to get families more involved in the center activities. 

Foster close working relationships with all families. Promote an environment of trust and support to ensure that your concerns are not perceived as threatening. 

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If there is a particular child that you are concerned about, you should have a discussion with the director of the center. The director should be the individual to talk directly to the caregivers, using specific examples that have been observed during daily routines and activities. For example, "during free play Matthew does not interact with his peers but prefers to play alone. He does not ask the teacher for help during self-care routines or learning activities. During one full day last week, he only said one word, and the teacher was not able to understand it."