If your child has learning needs, finding the right inclusive preschool can be a daunting task. About half of Singapore parents with such kids encountered difficulties when enrolling their children in preschools here, according to a 2016 Lien Foundation’s Inclusive Attitudes survey, which polled more than 800 parents for their views on inclusion.
More than half of the parents surveyed (54 per cent) observed that schools were unwilling to take their child because of reasons such as inadequate support and readiness. Thankfully, an increasing number of inclusive preschools here are now bridging the gap by offering programmes where kids with and without special needs can learn and play together. Here, we ask the experts what every parent should know about inclusive preschools.
Inclusive preschools are for all kids, not just those with different learning needs
In any classroom, students learn and pick up skills at different pace. Some kids with special needs or learning differences may require more help than others. But not every preschool here is equipped to cater to a wide range of learning styles.
An inclusive education is designed to cater to the needs of all children with varying range of abilities. “Any society is made up of diverse human beings of different race, gender, interests and giftings. An inclusive classroom is just that – it includes everyone and avoids segregation or categorisation according to pre-set criteria,” explains Dr Denise Lai, founder of Wee Care Group Singapore.
In an inclusive classroom setting, your little one gets to maximise her potential based on her individual capabilities. The goal is to promote social acceptance and provide a platform for all children to learn, says Angelin Chua, principal psychologist of Bright Path Preschool.
Kids with special learning needs will get a boost from trained experts in inclusive preschools
As Angelin explains it, most mainstream preschools may not have the support and resources to cater to varying abilities. And unlike special education schools for children with special needs or disabilities, inclusive schools provide education to all children based on the assumption that all kids can learn, she adds.
“We believe that for some children, learning needs to be a little different. Lessons in Bright Path, for example, are reflected, reviewed and refined more frequently to ensure that varying learning needs are met. This means teachers often have to be creative and flexible in their teaching,” Angelin says.
Lessons at inclusive preschools are typically carried out with early childhood teachers who work alongside early intervention specialists and therapists. Kindle Garden, an inclusive preschool by social service organisation AWWA, uses a curriculum called the Individualised Educational
Plan, where each child learns at her own pace. Up to 30 per cent of its students have additional needs such as global developmental delay, autism, Down’s syndrome and cerebral palsy.
“We have occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and other interventionists who work with the child on their developmental/growth challenges in class. For example, children with special needs will get a little boost and some encouragement without having to pull them out of class,” shares Honey Ng, assistant director of Kindle Garden.
School activities in inclusive preschools are not unlike that of mainstream preschools, but are usually adapted to cater to varying learning needs
While children with special needs may get a little boost in inclusive preschools, Angelin shares that the activities may not differ significantly from that of other preschools. “At Bright Path for example, all activities, including routine daily selfcare activities like dressing, grooming and toileting, present as valuable learning opportunities,” she says.
A typical day at Kindle Garden, for example, starts with breakfast, followed by assembly with outdoor activities at either its sensory garden or playground and lessons in the classroom.In the afternoon, children have their naptime and work on projects and activities such as art and craft, music and movement, before dismissal.
The main difference, Angelin explains, lies in how the activities are planned and carried out while taking into consideration the child’s individual learning abilities and goals. As such, the facilities and educational materials at inclusive preschools are usually designed in a way that allow children with special needs to play and learn with their peers.
For instance, Kindle Garden has a toy car that is spacious enough for a wheelchair to fit into it, and a tree house in its playground that is fully accessible by a child-sized wheelchair or buggy.
It hones your child’s soft skills and EQ
While most people may think that children with additional needs would benefit more from attending an inclusive preschool, there are also benefits for typically-developing children, Honey shares.
“They learn to accept and become comfortable in recognising strengths and abilities of their peers who are ‘different’. The interaction also helps them build their soft skills such as empathy and ability to show care and concern to their peers,” she says.
From experience, children who learn together in diverse settings are more patient, perceptive and caring, Dr Lai shares. Wee Care’s curriculum emphasises its preschoolers’ social and emotional development, so they learn to engage with one another in positive and constructive ways.
“We might have a life skills lesson on ‘being patient’ or ‘managing my frustrations’, which incorporate sociodramatic role play to make the scenarios more realistic… for future situations that the children might encounter at home, outside of school and/or at the playground,” Dr Lai explains.
But it does not compromise on the ABCs and 123s
A common misconception is that teachers pay more attention to kids with different learning needs or prioritise them, when an inclusive education values every child equally, Honey says.
In fact, research has shown that the types of teaching strategies used in inclusive classrooms, such as tailoring the activities to suit each child’s needs and getting kids to work together in groups, benefit all types of learners.
Typically-developing children have comparable or better academic performance compared to those schooled in non-inclusive settings. Studies from the United States estimate that 80 to 85 per cent of children with special needs can meet the same standards as their typically developing peers if given the right support, according to the 2016 Lien Foundation’s Inclusive Attitudes survey.
All preschools seek to prepare children for the academic and socio-emotional aspects of mainstream education, and inclusive preschools are no different, Dr Lai says. She adds there are
strategies in place to ensure that disruptions are kept to a minimum and that all children learn at their own pace. Those with additional needs also have the support of a pool of trained therapists during lessons or afterwards to consolidate skills taught in class, Dr Lai adds.
When choosing the right school, check out its take and attitude on inclusion
Before enrolling your kid, speak to the school leaders and staff to get a better understanding on their position and attitude on inclusive education, Angelin advises. After all, inclusion is a way of thinking, she says.
Dr Lai also advises looking at the credentials and backgrounds of the school leaders and teaching staff. Schools with support from healthcare or allied healthcare professionals, such as speech therapists, occupational therapists and psychologists, would be able to better support your child’s needs, Angelin adds.