Adapting Preschool Classroom Environments for Special Needs Students

Differing Abilities Felt SetAs an early childhood educator you will welcome students from all walks of life into your classroom. Over the years you’ll likely look back and appreciate all of the unique personalities and the personal growth and development that took place in your care.

Each child is unique and special in their own way, and one day you may have students that have disabilities or developmental delays in your class. While you may question how you can provide support if you have not received any formalized training, rest assured that you have a team of individuals that are ready to help. By joining forces with parents and special education professionals if applicable, you will be the guiding light setting your student up for success in the classroom.

Adapting your classroom with small modifications can establish a solid foundation for your student’s educational journey. With a little patience, an open mind, and a couple of adjustments within the classroom, at the end of the year you will be proud of the strides your student has made under your guidance.

Classroom Modifications 

Declutter

Decluttering the classroom will serve you well as too much of a good thing may be distracting and create simulation overdrive. Keep posters to a minimum, arrange furniture to allow for ease of motion without obstacles, and ensure that materials are easily within reach.

Simplify Activities

When applicable, simplify the task at hand. For example, when a student is at the writing center, gently guide them to focus on one material or stencil at a time. Or during music and movement time, teach one or two specific gross movements to hone in on, as opposed to incorporating a variety of moves, as that may be overwhelming.

By providing additional guidance to your student, and aiding them through a modified variation of the activity, it may be easier for them to have success with the task.

Alter Toys and Equipment

Minor alterations to toys and equipment can allow your student to participate in activities alongside the rest of the class. These adjustments can be as simple as adding pencil grips to writing utensils, or setting up an easel on a tabletop to allow for bigger arm movements while drawing or painting.

Be Mindful of Transitions

Sudden transitions may startle or upset students, so be sure to give ample warning of an upcoming activity, or schedule modification. This may mean connecting with your student five minutes before you announce the transition to the rest of the class.

Manage Noise

Loud noises may cause children to become anxious or feel overwhelmed. You can overcome this by communicating the need to manage noise levels with your students. A gentle reminder to use indoor voices will help keep them on track, and it will become second nature to them as they put it into practice daily.

Create an Inclusive Classroom Environment

Incorporating the discussion of acceptance into lesson plans will help reinforce an inclusive and positive classroom environment. In turn, this may also give your student a confidence boost, as he or she will see that not only is the teacher on their team, but other students are supportive as well.

Below you can find a list of resources that may help guide this conversation:

Connect with Parents

Connect with your student’s parents and work together as a team. They know their child best, and are aware of likes and dislikes, and helpful hints that may be useful for you in the classroom. They will likely appreciate the initiative to connect further, and in turn it will be beneficial to you to garner deeper insight into your student’s personality.

Address Strengths and Challenges

Address strengths and challenges upfront. Are there certain subjects or activities the child is more drawn to? Are there certain triggers that you should avoid? The more you know about the student’s preferences, the easier you can shape a personalized plan and daily approach.

Discuss Personal Preferences

Gain a deeper understanding of how the student’s parents address their child’s disability, and how comfortable they are having you address it with the rest of the class. By discussing personal preferences, you can confirm exactly how to approach this, and the parents will be appreciative that you asked for their input in the matter.

Review Your Student’s Individualized Education Program

Also discuss the student’s IEP (Individualized Education Program) if applicable. The IEP is typically established upon an evaluation provided either by the school itself, or through a developmental therapist. Ultimately, the plan provides a roadmap for the best learning approach for the student and sets goals for future development. By understanding the child’s goals, it can help shape your approach and lesson planning.

Schedule Check In Meetings

It may be valuable to schedule check in meetings with parents to discuss ongoing student progress and behavior. By sharing your observations from the classroom, you could potentially aid parents at home as well, as they gain a deeper understanding of their child’s performance and interactions within the classroom.

Follow Your Intuition

At the end of the day, this will be a learning experience for everyone involved. Work together with parents as a team, and experiment to see what works best for the student in their new classroom setting. Every child is unique and special, and it is up to you to help them flourish in your learning environment!

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