A Unique Child

Inclusive practice – How to treat inclusion as an opportunity in Early Years

  • Inclusive practice – How to treat inclusion as an opportunity in Early Years

Supporting a child with additional needs in your setting can seem daunting – but it needn’t be so, explains Kath Dickinson…

Start with the child

To improve inclusion, start with the child and work from there. Work from the premise ‘what can we do to meet the needs of the child?’ and not ‘how can the child fit in with us?’.

Adjustments do not have to be large, they just need to be appropriate, such as moving tables around to make space for a wheelchair, having a range of colours so children with preferences can make choices, or having a ‘wobble’ cushion for children who have sensory issues.

Ask yourself the question ‘what is it I want to achieve?’. Is it the outcome or the process? Does it matter where the activity is completed as long as it’s completed? Do children with autism really need to look at you to listen to you if they find eye contact too hard?

Make a list of the child’s strengths and needs, and match staff and resources from there.

Focus on accessibility

Helping children to play and learn on their own terms is enhanced by an environment which encourages play and active learning for all children.

Look at your setting and think about the furniture you have. Can you create more space around equipment and resources? Do you have ramps available or can you rearrange rooms or swap age group rooms to accommodate children?

If the answer is no to some of these questions, do you have the budget to look at purchasing height adjustable furniture, removeable ramps and arc tables so all children can work and play together, or moveable changing tables?

Look at the space, ask yourself what is actually necessary, and see whether a different entrance or route to rooms can be used for easier access.

Staff training and relationships

A quality learning experience for children requires a quality workforce. Having teaching and support staff who can respond effectively to each and every child is crucial.

We are always accessing Local Authority CPD. Keep an eye out for free CPD in relation to the different needs of your children. There are many organisations that offer introductory CPD and/or discounts for staff training.

Don’t forget, parents are a great source of information too. Ask them if they would be happy to share their insight and experiences with you.

Consider ways of sharing and celebrating each child’s lived experiences. Can you hold awareness days? Not just for staff but externally, with the children and parents of others in your setting. By working together with all parents and carers, solid, trusting relationships can be built.

Be creative

Does the equipment you have, have to be used for its intended purpose? Can you teach your children when they are standing, or lying down? Exploring this can help children with muscle tone issues and specific disabilities that make sitting difficult. Standing can aid the posture control of children with a condition such as cerebral palsy.

If you have a child who requires daily physio exercises, can you organise a daily yoga session which will incorporate them? This means that everyone is doing the same and the child that has to do the physio exercises is just doing yoga like everyone else.

Could a child with ADHD or sensory proprioception complete a session when they are bouncing on a trampette or doing other physical exercise? This often helps them focus or concentrate.

Remember, it’s OK to be unconventional in your approaches.

Question your practice

Inclusion is a process of identifying, understanding and breaking down barriers to participation and belonging. Ask yourself the following questions:

● What are the needs of your children?

● Can you change the arousal level of the room by reducing the number of displays or colours?

● Can you reduce the amount of noise? Can you lessen the distractions? Can you provide suitable alternatives?

● Is more staff training needed?

These are questions we ask ourselves all the time. And sometimes the answers might require additional action or new resources. For example, display boards could be tweaked to be less cluttered or used for alternative purposes - such as vertical mark making if they are low to the floor.

Distractions can be lessened by making small low arousal spaces - we use a black storage cube as a background to reduce distraction for one of our children with a visual impairment.

Utilise funding

There are many different grants out there that you may be able to tap into. If you have children who receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA) then you can access government funding to enable you to adapt your practice, purchase resources and pay for training.

You can also amalgamate DLA funding to purchase a larger item, for example artificial grass so children in wheelchairs or those who are crawling can access the play area all year round.

Children with autism sometimes prefer technology instead of people as it is predictable and repeatable. By having an interactive white board, social skills can be developed for all children.

When you do spend, try and purchase multi use equipment and be adaptable in its use, too. For example, if you have children who are oral sensory, soft plastic toys may be the better resource instead of wooden or natural items. It’s OK to go down in age for resources. Use the most appropriate toy to fit the needs of the child.

Early Years Pupil Premium can be used to provide enrichment activities, such as visits to places the children may not otherwise get the opportunity to experience or having visitors at your setting.

Establish partnerships

Children’s emotional wellbeing is essential for effective learning and an insight into this can be gained by working in partnership with everyone who is involved with the child.

Information taken from external professionals the child may be seeing will help to increase your knowledge, whilst working in partnership with parents will tell you about any developments made at home, and adaptations which you may be able to mirror in your setting.

Other professionals, such as occupational therapists and physiotherapists, also have access to equipment you may be able to borrow, or could provide you with an equipment list.

Think about other services in your local area such as animal therapy and guide dogs, who may offer free sessions, or organisations that run disability friendly or reduced cost sessions. Don’t forget other local settings too. Can you pool funds to purchase larger items that both settings can use?


● Providing a fully inclusive setting gives you opportunities for learning and growth, not a list of insurmountable difficulties

● Think of equity not equality – provide the support each child requires. It’s OK to offer something different if it fulfils a need

● In the middle of every difficulty lies an opportunity - you just need to look for it

● Good practice for a child with additional needs is good practice for any child

● It doesn’t matter how slowly a child learns or how small the progress is as long as we are encouraging them not to stop

Kath Dickinson is the Nursery Manager at SEND to Learn, which won the nasen Award for Early Year’s Provision.