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Inclusive ECE Environments: Classroom Spaces that Welcome All Children

The physical environment of a classroom plays a significant role in children’s learning. A space that is warm, inviting, and inclusive helps children to feel safe and cared for — so that they can be comfortable exploring, trying new things, and learning new skills. Thoughtfully designed learning spaces communicate to children that they belong and that they are valued members of the classroom community. In this article, we explore a few ways that early childhood educators can create inclusive learning environments that are both accessible and welcoming to all children and their families.

Creating a Sense of Belonging

Early learning inclusivity means acknowledging and celebrating all the ways that children and families in our communities are unique. This includes needs, cultures, learning styles, and more. In its simplest form, an inclusive classroom communicates to all children that they are valued and that they belong.

In their article, Creating a Warm and Inclusive Classroom Environment: Planning for All Children to Feel Welcome, Jessica L. Bucholz of the University of West Georgia and Julie L. Sheffler of Florida Atlantic University discuss the importance of the learning environment: “The physical environment of a classroom plays a part in the ownership students feel about their school and more specifically their class. The classroom environment should do as much to foster cooperation and acceptance as the instructional method the teacher uses.”

Every child is special in their own way, and the best way to learn about each child’s uniqueness is to build a relationship with them and their family. Talk to each family about what types of routines and activities they use at home to support their child’s success, and then let them know how you have incorporated these patterns into your curriculum.  This relationship-based approach allows educators to partner with parents and to create a curriculum and classroom designed to help every child thrive.

Thoughtful Selection and Placement of Materials

One of the keys to creating an inclusive classroom is to use and display materials that represent the culture and characteristics of every child, family, and educator.  Hanging family photos and selecting books that highlight diversity help to create a classroom that represents and acknowledges everyone.  These might feel like small things, but they communicate to each child and family that they are important members of your community.

When selecting materials in the classroom, it is also important to consider the preferences of each child. Children with different sensory needs might enjoy having large stuffed animals or pillows that they can squeeze and squish. Other children might be drawn to an area of the classroom with big bean bags or things they can climb on to move their bodies. All materials should be placed in locations that are accessible and within reach for every child to explore.

Classroom Design & Arrangement

The warmth and general feel of a classroom are important elements to consider. In their article, Bucholz and Sheffler note that “decorating a classroom with some kind of warmth can help promote a sense of comfort and security…Color choice is important when decorating a classroom. Teachers should keep in mind that red and orange can make children feel nervous and unsettled while blue and green can help students feel calm… Plants, soft chairs, rugs, and pillows can help to add warmth and comfort to a class environment.” Many classrooms include a cozy corner, or an area of the classroom with pillows, stuffed animals, and other soft items that can support children in finding comfort in moments of stress or high stimulation.

The term universal design for learning refers to the creation of a learning environment in which every child can enjoy and participate without modifications. This principle is useful to keep in mind when setting up your classroom. For example, information in the classroom can be communicated through a variety of modes, such as visual, verbal, and tactile, so that it can be understood by children with differences in sensory abilities.

The arrangement of the classroom should not remain stagnant. Just as educators continue to learn and find new ways to support the children in our care, the classroom will evolve over time to meet the changing needs of the children and families that are a part of the community.

More Information

If you’re interested in learning more about inclusion, you might enjoy reading some of these G2K articles from the archives…

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