An inclusive classroom is one that supports the growth and development of all children, regardless of their abilities. When planning an inclusive program, you'll incorporate all the elements commonly seen in high-quality early childcare programs, such as an open floor plan with furniture that can be adapted to a variety of uses and bright, sunny rooms. Carefully consider safety needs, such as padding sharp corners on cabinets and tables and providing hand rails along walls.
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Research federal and state laws concerning building codes to ensure that your plans are in compliance. Plan for adequate parking and widened doorways for individuals with disabilities.
Plan for the possible needs of the children in your inclusive program. For example, if you plan to hire physical and occupational therapists, you may need a room large enough for physiotherapy equipment, such as balls and swings. Include closets and space for storage in your design. A small, cosy room provides a space for testing and counselling services.
Consider installing observation rooms where parents, staff and students can observe daily activities without disrupting classrooms. Inclusive classrooms often become training labs for university programs, and may attract the attention of students and educators. Observation rooms also allow therapists to observe and document children's behaviour unnoticed.
Draw the plans for classrooms with adaptability and flexibility in mind. Large rooms with cupboards and storage space allow teachers to move furniture as needed to accommodate children. Provide a bathroom for each classroom with small toilets for easy access. Ensure that sinks are also child-size to encourage independence. Install handrails near sinks and toilets for safety.
Build soft or quiet places into your plans, such as a fort or cosy corner with pillows and mats. Children with disabilities are sometimes overwhelmed by the noisiness of a typical preschool day. A quiet place can help children regain equilibrium and successfully rejoin the group. Plan for sensory materials, as well, such as interesting textures on the walls, soothing music, mirrors or soft lights. Include a place for sand and water play in your plans.
Consider maintenance and cleaning tasks when drawing your plans. Select durable materials that are simple to clean, such as vinyl or laminate flooring. Avoid hard flooring such as concrete or ceramic tile. Choose laminate cupboards and countertops that won't fade or become stained with exposure to daily disinfecting cleaners. Install a laundry room and cleaning closet near classrooms for the inevitable messes.
Tips and warnings
- Don't underestimate your need for storage space, especially for an inclusive program. In addition to typical classroom supplies, you may need assistive technology devices, cube chairs, weighted vests and other equipment commonly used in inclusive classrooms.
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