By: Roxanne Kaplan
One of the very first lessons I remember being taught when I was a student in the field of education was that every child is unique and, as educators, it is our responsibility to meet the special needs of each child. It was a very important message that, throughout my career, allowed me to treat every student as a child with special needs.
I began my career in Early Childhood Education in 1988. Back then, most classrooms would consist of a head teacher and one or two assistant teachers. At best, teachers were only equipped to handle children with minor unique needs, so they were less inclusive of children with more substantial special needs. If you were to visit most early childhood centers today, you will find more than just the teachers and students in the classroom. There could be a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist and/or a SEIT (Special Education Itinerant Teacher) in the room. At World Cup, we believe that early intervention and a team approach where teachers, students, therapists and parents work together will ensure that all special needs students become successful learners.
When the parent or teacher notices that a child may have some developmental delays, we encourage the parents to have their child evaluated. Because research has shown that the rate of human learning and development is most rapid in the first five years, we know that the quicker we can get services in place the better we will be at enhancing the child’s development. Although it is oftentimes hard for a parent to accept that their child has a special need, we encourage them to act as soon as possible.
Our team approach works because we value each other’s input as we identify specific goals for each child and then create a plan to help the child achieve his goals. We also create an environment that makes every child feel included. This can be as simple as ensuring that all artwork is displayed and celebrated, regardless of its appearance to recognizing and celebrating every milestone, even if it is as minor as a child finally asking another child to play with them. We are also very fortunate at World Cup to have a facility that helps support a plan to improve physical development. With large, well-equipped classrooms, two gyms, two outdoor playgrounds and an indoor and outdoor bike track, there is more than enough equipment to help support a child’s fine and gross motor development.
We as educators must be sure to reach every child and ensure they feel needed, cared about and successful. It is our responsibility to recognize that all children have special needs. Some needs require more attention and an expert intervention while others may be as simple as adhering to a special diet. No need is too minor. Throughout the years, we have learned that children with minor needs benefit from the inclusion of children with special needs in their classroom. At an early age they learn that other children who may not be as able as they are can still contribute. They learn at an early age to accept the differences in others. Although early childhood education has come a long way to help children with special needs, I look forward to the day when we can include all children, even those who have more extensive needs.
Roxanne Kaplan is the director of World Cup Nursery School & Kindergarten in Chappaqua.