By: Melissa Loy
Inclusion in education is the belief system that every child with disabilities has the right to an education alongside their peers with typical development. All students should have equal opportunities in education! Inclusion promotes not only accepting and understanding each other’s differences, but also valuing each other.
My county school system believes that children with special needs alongside children with typical development, meaning students who have typical language, behavior, academic, and motor development, are best encouraged to grow in the same learning environment. The students with typical development, called peers, model classroom routines, activities, and social and emotional behaviors.
I believe all students benefit from an inclusive learning environment. Each student gains social emotional skills, including friendship skills, problem-solving skills, empathy, and kindness. While the students with disabilities are learning from their peers by imitating their peers’ skills and behaviors, I feel the peers gain just as much, if not more, from the experience. For instance, the peers may learn that differences aren’t so scary, and gain a compassionate perspective that will serve them well for years to come.
In our classroom, we promote inclusion by teaching the students to be “Super Friends.” As a “Super Friend,” students are kind, helpful, and share with each other. This also includes understanding differences with their friends.
We teach the peers about different ways our friends may walk, which may include wheelchairs, walkers, or braces as well as different ways they may communicate, including sign language, gestures, pictures, or talking devices. “Super Friends” play with other friends that may look, walk, or talk differently than they do. Everyone deserves to be in a respectful and accepting classroom setting!
In our early childhood classroom of 3-5 year olds, some students may be exposed to someone different from them for the first time in their life. The students may ask lots of questions because they are typically curious about different devices, fidgets, or wheelchairs their classmates may be using. And this is okay–curiosity is a good trait! When kids are curious, they learn about each other rather than judging each other.
As the students with disabilities are learning from modeled behaviors and skills, peers are gaining leadership skills, empathy for others, and acceptance. As my friend and the author of Guion The Lion Rebecca Macsovits says, “Similarities may bring us together, but it’s our differences that make this world a beautiful and colorful place.” Through an inclusive learning environment like this, all students are learning to embrace their differences while building self- confidence and friendships.
Guion the Lion is all about presenting messages of compassion, curiosity and adventure before children begin making their own judgments and assumptions. Through the children’s book, parenting/teaching resources, fun activities and more, kids can learn how appreciating differences and embracing new ideas leads to unimaginable fun.