The environment in which preschool-aged children learn is one of the factors that affect long-term outcomes. Many research studies have shown that children with disabilities who participate in regular early childhood programs have better outcomes in social, language, and cognitive skills than they would if most of the children in their classroom had a disability.
Access to the general education curriculum is also a big factor--when learning takes place with typically developing peers, children with disabilities have more opportunities to experience positive, age expected behaviors. By ensuring children have a chance to meet challenging objectives such as those presented in high quality early childhood settings, and children's goals are appropriately ambitious, children can acquire the knowledge and skills needed to make significant advances in their development.
U.S. Dept of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) published the Preschool Dear Colleague Letter in 2017 to describe the least restrictive environment, placement options, data reporting, and funding requirements.
Arizona has had increases in the number of children who are receiving their special education services in regular early childhood programs. Some of the most recent data is described within this Chart and table of preschool environments 2015-2020. Schools have increasingly made inclusive learning a focus of their efforts over the past 6 years. More children are now included in regular early childhood classrooms, defined as a classroom in which the majority of children are non-disabled. As school districts focused on expanding funding strategies, delivery of specially designed instruction, parent engagement, and administrative leadership, more children have moved into inclusive settings.
One approach to supporting inclusive programs and classrooms is to determine the costs of major operational components. The following tables provide a list of factors to consider as programs calculate the major costs of an individual classroom. The table may be modified to add indirect or other costs.
Several professional organizations define the elements of high-quality preschool programs, and the State Education Agency offers services and supports to implement these practices. The National Association for Education of the Young Child references topics such as “Creating a Community of Learners”, and “Teaching to Support Children’s Development”.
The Division of Early Childhood, a professional organization for early childhood special education, describes recommended practices such as a focus on transitions, children’s interactions, and teaming and collaboration.
Each of these organizations provides information and support to ensure that all children have access to quality learning environments, an integral component for ensuring that children develop to their fullest capacity.
Grisham-Brown J, Pretti-Frontczak K, Hawkins SR, Winchell BN. Addressing Early Learning Standards for All Children Within Blended Preschool Classrooms. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education. 2009;29(3):131-142.
Green KB, Terry NP, Gallagher PA. Progress in Language and Literacy Skills Among Children With Disabilities in Inclusive Early Reading First Classrooms. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education. 2014;33(4):249-259.
Odom SL, Buysse V, Soukakou E. Inclusion for Young Children with Disabilities: A Quarter Century of Research Perspectives. Journal of Early Intervention. 2011;33(4):344-356.
Odom, S. L. Viztum, J., Wolery, R. A., Lieber, J., Sandall, S. R., Hanson, M., Beckman, P. J., Schwartz, I., & Horn, E. (2004). Preschool inclusion in the United States: A review of research from an ecological systems perspective. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 4, 17-49.
Strain, P.S. (2017). Four-Year Follow-Up of Children in the LEAP Randomized Trial: Some Planned and Accidental Findings. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education.