Three Guiding Principles for an Inclusive Early Classroom

By Kathy Trainor, Ed.D.

We live in an inclusive world, but it doesn’t always feel like we are doing a good job of including everyone. Simply enrolling a young child in an early childhood program does not demonstrate that you are practicing or promoting inclusive practices. Even with the best of intentions, our programs sometimes fall short of demonstrating best practices. We hope the information below will help you develop a plan for full authentic inclusion.

In 2009, the Division of Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) wrote a Joint Position Statement on Early Childhood Inclusion sharing a definition of early childhood inclusion that supports the rights of every infant and young child and his/her family to be full members of communities in our society. 

For real inclusion to even begin to happen, three defining features need to be in place: access, participation and supports. What might these defining features look like to early childhood administrators, teachers and parents? 

Here are some ideas and questions to consider when reviewing your inclusive practices.


Remove or reduce the physical barriers that might inhibit children from having the same opportunities inside and outside of the classroom.

  1. Can every child access and interact with the equipment, materials and their peers?

  2. Is the environment welcoming, calm and supportive?

  3. Create individual quiet areas as well as spaces to meet children’s sensory needs.

Use principles of Universal Design for Learning:

  1. Are you offering multiple ways for children to show their learning and development?

  2. Is information presented in a variety of formats, including multisensory options (visual, auditory and kinesthetic)? For example, use tactile activities with sand to support children as they learn to print letters.

  3. Offer headphones to children to listen to stories or to cancel out loud noises.

  4. Create visual schedules for individual children to help guide their daily activities.


Provide options and adaptations that allow all children to be a part of the typical classroom activities and routines.

  1. Start with simple changes. For example, have weighted lap pads and fidget toys for children who need support to feel calm. The calming effect will allow them to be engaged and focus longer in large group activities.             
  2. To promote self-regulation, include wiggle seats or wiggle stools as a seating option for children who are constantly moving.

  3. Include a variety of sizes and styles of drawing and writing tools.

Create and promote a sense of belonging and membership.

  1. Does your classroom have photos, puzzles, books and materials that represent all the children in your classroom?


Create a structure that addresses the needs of every child and family.

  1. How are families shown that they are the most valuable of the team members?

  2. Does the program have clearly written policies that foster inclusion? Check out the Preschool and Kindergarten Checklist.

  3. Do family members and educators have access to local resources and professional development to gain knowledge and skills? The DEC website has a host of resources and professional development opportunities for educators and families.

In early childhood education we are already doing so many of these best practices because the early childhood world is already inclusive by default. We all come into this world with different abilities, strengths and challenges. If we were all the same, this world would be boring.

Let’s celebrate and support those differences. It all starts with the right attitude!



Kathy Trainor, Ed.D. brings decades of early childhood education experience to her work as an adjunct professor at Arcadia University and currently the Educational Specialist at Becker’s School Supplies. She is a graduate of Arcadia University with an Ed.D. in Special Education and a Master of Arts in Early Education. Prior to teaching in higher education, Kathy was a preschool teacher for over 20 years. Kathy is a mom to five grown children and a grandmother to seven amazing grandchildren who keep her active and smiling every day.