An inclusive practice in childcare promotes and encourages ALL children to participate in education and care. As Educators, we support an inclusive practice across our entire program, so that it embraces the right of every child to be, to belong and become in a diverse world.

Often our understanding of inclusion is limited to children with disabilities or children with cultural and language barriers. This limited definition restricts the perception of an inclusive practice in childcare.

In this article, we’re going to look at the different approaches Educators can use to promote an inclusive practice in childcare and share a few examples of inclusive practice from our centres. We’ll also address:

  • What inclusion means in childcare.
  • What makes an inclusive practice.
  • Who benefits from inclusion.
  • Strategies for inclusion in childcare.

Educator promotes an inclusive practice by encouraging all children to participate

What does inclusion mean in childcare?

Inclusion means different things to different people. The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) states that early childhood inclusion “takes into account all children’s social, cultural and linguistic diversity (including learning styles, abilities, disabilities, gender, family circumstances and geographic location) in curriculum decision-making processes.”

“Inclusion is about diversity,” says Astrid Cancrini, Centre Director at Petit ELJ. “It’s about providing an environment where all children can take part in activities and succeed. It’s important for Educators to celebrate the benefits of diversity.”

The National Quality Standards (NQS) also promote inclusion by referencing “each child” across all quality areas and provides guidelines on how early education and care services can meet expectations for an inclusive practice.

All children deserve a rich environment where they can learn with other children and from their surroundings. Adding or changing a program to include a child with additional needs does not exclude other children, as all children benefit from an inclusive practice.

Inclusion is also about access. It embodies the right of every child regardless of their circumstances to participate as active members of families, communities and societies.

Child participates in a rich environment of learning experiences with peers.

What makes an inclusive practice?

An inclusive childcare service:

  1. Provides access to a wide range of learning opportunities.
  2. Makes individualised modifications or adjustments so children can participate fully in education and care services with peers.
  3. Values each child’s individual strength and needs.
  4. Has a high level of system administration and support that addresses:
  • Ongoing training.
  • Well defined processes and procedures.
  • Beneficial collaboration with families, community and support specialists.
  • Quality standards.

Children participate in learning programs because Educators plan experiences, activities and routines to meet the needs of every child.

Education and care services plan changes and additions to learning programs with a single child in mind, even though you can group changes under specific categories, such as:

  • Environmental support.
  • Materials and tools adaption.
  • Activity simplification.
  • Child preferences.
  • Specialised equipment
  • Adult encouragement.
  • Peer support.

Educator promotes an inclusive practice with adult encouragement and peer support.

Who benefits from inclusion in early childhood education?

The Guide to the National Quality Framework lists children with additional needs as those that “require or will benefit from or will benefit from specific considerations or adaptations and who:

  • are Aboriginals or Torres Strait Islanders
  • are recent arrivals in Australia
  • live in isolated geographic locations
  • are experiencing difficult family circumstances or stress
  • are at risk of abuse or neglect
  • are experiencing language and communication difficulties
  • have a diagnosed disability—physical, sensory, intellectual or autism spectrum disorder
  • have a medical or health condition
  • demonstrate challenging behaviours and behavioural or psychological disorders
  • have developmental delays
  • have learning difficulties
  • are gifted or have special talents
  • have other extra support needs (p.614 Updated January 2020).”

Because additional needs arise from diverse causes, each circumstance requires a different response. It’s important to note that from time to time, all children may have additional needs.

An inclusive practice can boost a child’s confidence. It connects families and creates opportunities for friendships among children. It also strengthens the community by valuing inclusion and community support.

Service providers also benefit from inclusive practices in childcare by sharing resources and developing partnerships.

All children benefit from inclusion in early childhood education.

Strategies for inclusion in childcare

An Educator’s role is to include children with additional needs by being aware of each child’s uniqueness and how the context of a child’s life influences their wellbeing and learning

Collaborative relationships with families and communities are essential for supporting inclusion. Educators who develop an understanding for each child’s culture, family circumstances and community life, can build meaningful, relevant, and respectful experiences.

Building collaborative relationships with families and communities begins with enrolment. Educators can develop a deeper understanding of a child’s needs and how they can promote inclusion by developing partnerships through communication, collaboration and consultation.

“Collaboration is based on mutual trust and respect,” says Astrid. “Children thrive when we can work together through open communication and in partnership with their families to recognise and access the parents’ knowledge about their child for shared decision-making.”

At Petit ELJ the enrolment process includes learning about each child and the things that help to comfort them, are special to them, or scare them. We also learn about their family and what each child needs help with. This information is documented on an All About Me form.

To promote an inclusive practice, the Guide to the NQF directs Educators to:

  • Develop strategic inclusion plans.
  • Provide families with easy-to-read information about the services operations and inclusive practices.
  • Respect the family input with shared decision-making.
  • Discuss children’s individual requirements, play preferences and incidents sensitively, respectfully and confidentially.
  • Demonstrate a non-judgemental understanding of each child, their family and community context.
  • Share with families the interactions, successes and achievements they’ve experienced with children.
  • Learn about the family’s values and expectations for their child.
  • Contribute to the documentation of each child’s learning and goal setting.

Educators can also:

  • Plan interactions with families with the view to building relations that respect the family values.
  • Create strong community connections with specialist support services and the wider community, so families have access and feel supported.
  • Develop community relationships with other agencies and support services to gather qualified advice and information for Educators.
  • Participate in professional development and have a good knowledge and understanding of child development.
  • Encourage children to be constructors of their own knowledge.
  • Plan and construct environments and learning programs that meet the needs of all children in their care.

At our Murwillumbah centre there are plans to collaborate with families by creating a dedicated family garden within the centre where all children can experience the joys of gardening.

“We will be growing herbs, vegetables and fruits with the families and children,” says Shanyn Pelling, Centre Director at Murwillumbah. “The food that we grow can be used in the centre kitchen and families will be encouraged to grow and take what they need for home.”

“This will be a collaboration between our centre’s team and all of our families and children, so that every child can participate in this garden to the table experience.”

An inclusive childcare practice is one that genuinely believes all children are unique and have the potential to learn. Children prosper when Educators, families and the wider community work closely in partnership to support access, inclusion and participation.

Petit ELJ’s All About ME Form part of the strategies for inclusion at enrollment.

An example of inclusion: Case study at Petit Early Learning Journey Caloundra

At Petit ELJ Caloundra, a child needed inclusion support to assist them with behavioural challenges and socialisation with other children in their environment.

Through a careful selection process, Petit ELJ hired dedicated Educators and a committed Centre Director, who collaborated with the family to improve inclusion.

“Through fortnightly meetings we discussed the stages we were in and the changes in the child’s behaviour,” says Sharon Nelson, Centre Director at Petit ELJ Caloundra. “We discussed what we were doing to ensure their child was included in all aspects of the program.”

“Part of this solution was to change the child’s room around. We found that the room was over stimulating. We added sensory toys and incorporated a Dome that became their ‘Quiet’ spot, a space where they could retreat too when feeling overwhelmed.”

An Educator in the room was designated as the inclusion support person for this child. They became the child’s trusted carer and they worked together on forming a secure and respectful bond. When the child felt overwhelmed, the Educator would immediately notice changes in the child’s behaviour and assist them in transitioning to their safe zone.

“It was an ongoing process but in the end we noticed a positive change in the child’s relationship with children and Educators. It was reassuring to see their engagement in centre activities thrive particularly when participating in group activities.”

Children construct their own knowledge in an inclusive practice in childcare

Embrace an inclusive practice with Petit Early Learning Journey

Do you have a genuine interest in caring and promoting inclusion for ALL children? We’re seeking Educators who are willing to go that extra mile to collaborate with families and the greater community to create physical environments and learning programs for every child.

At Petit ELJ, we advocate for an open and inclusive early educational childhood environment that recognises diversity. If you’re willing to embrace professional development, and extend your community networks to support our families then we want to hear from you.

Explore a new career with Petit ELJ.