Early Childhood Building Blocks: Universal Design for Learning in Early Childhood Inclusive Classrooms
Two children—Jason and Mylee—are seated on inflatable disc cushions. They use these cushions to help with stabilization, muscle control, and balance. The extra support helps them participate successfully in the group activity. Once the story is over, Ms. Teresa brings out a big brown “magic” bag and asks the children to guess what is inside. She shows a picture on the Smart Board of a firefighter driving a fire truck. “What does a firefighter drive?” she asks. Sari says, “Fire truck,” and Ms. Teresa takes a fire truck out of the magic bag and hands it to Sari to hold. After each child is given a vehicle from the magic bag, Ms. Teresa and her assistant have the children take their vehicles to an area where they can race them down a variety of ramps and chutes that have been set up at different levels to allow the children to reach them if they are standing or seated. During this time, the children can also work in the writing area and the art area to write stories and make pictures of their cars and trucks. They can use markers, finger paints, glitter glue, or a computer program to make their picture. Later in the day, the children will have an opportunity to dictate, draw, or use a computer program to share stories of trips in cars, buses, and airplanes. The computer program will prompt the children to choose items from a picture library and create a story about them that can be printed out. The children can click on each picture, and it will say the name of the object in the picture out loud. The program, which can be used to record children’s speech and even a song they may want to sing or hum to accompany their drawings, accommodates the needs of Jamal, who has a speech delay; Asaam, who is learning English as a second language; and Hanna, who is visually impaired.
Young children have many different physical and learning needs. A growing number of these children are spending their days in programs similar to the one in the opening classroom scenario. Jason and Mylee have muscle development problems, Jamal has a speech delay, Asaam is just learning English, and Hanna is visually impaired. These five children are only a few of the children in the classroom. Each child has strengths and challenges; all children do.
How can the teachers hope to meet the needs of all these children? Many early childhood teachers have adopted the principles of universal design for learning (UDL), but others are feeling lost and overwhelmed. They need information and support. This brief Building Blocks article will outline some UDL basics in an attempt to address those feelings and provide access to tools that teachers can use to meet children’s needs in the classroom so that they can learn successfully.