What’s So Special about Inclusive Childcare?

Choosing the right child care setting for your child or family member is one of the most important choices you’ll make in their early years. We all want to provide a safe and nurturing daily experience for the children we love, and every child deserves a loving and respectful foundation in their lives. As you create your own personal list of high quality indicators for evaluating the options before you, I’d like to share a few thoughts for you to consider.

While many centers offer consistent care and a focus on learning, it is important to assess the environment in which that care and learning take place. Obviously we all want a clean and safe center, but don’t be overly swayed by the physical qualities alone in a particular setting. In my 26 years of working in the field of early childhood, I have witnessed excellent, individualized care in less than state of the art settings. For me, the singular defining factor of an excellent child care center continues to be a setting where ALL children are embraced and challenged to grow to their unknown potential. This is the foundation we refer to as ‘inclusive childcare’.

Inclusive childcare benefits children with and without disabilities, as well as their teachers and families. While there are countless advantages, we have listed below some of the ones we see most often.

  • ALL children learn to be accepting of differences
  • Beginning as young as toddlers, children show empathy for another child who is struggling. This empathy needs to be nurtured and encouraged, as it is the foundation of becoming a compassionate human being.
  • Young children focus on common interests not physical differences.
  • Honest curiosity is encouraged and answered. Kids ask about things they see: a prosthetic leg or a wheelchair. Honest answers dispel fear and awkwardness helping disability become part of “normal”.
  • Children and teachers learn to make adaptations on their own, in order to help another child play and participate.
  • Teachers ask the question “how can we make this happen?” and children come up with amazing answers and solutions. This kind of problem solving is meaningful and based in care for another.
  • For the typical child who grapples with their own personal struggles, they can find encouragement in seeing the persistence and successes of their friends with more pronounced challenges and disability.
  • Starting with the respectful and encouraging example of our teachers, young children will imitate the tone and positive attitude they see modeled by their teachers every day. This fosters a healthy self-esteem and respect for others.
  • When sincere friendships develop in the preschool years, children have a wealth of memories to draw upon when confronted with unkind words or actions directed towards themselves or others.
  • Other adult skills that are born in the inclusive preschool years, include: diverse friendships, advocacy, personal reflection, risk taking, problem solving, taking the perspective of others, a desire to make sense of the world, leadership, appreciation for different ways of learning, decreased fear of disability and increased sense of ability to cope with it.

Belle Children’s Services of St. Louis Arc, previously known as Belle Center, has been a leader for more than 30 years in the effort to make inclusive childcare opportunities available throughout the St. Louis area. In January 2015, we acquired full operation of Childgarden Early Childhood Center. Our goal is to provide the highest quality inclusive child care experience for 140 children and their families.
We welcome you to visit our center and see the strategies and supports that create a truly inclusive setting. Childgarden is living proof that inclusive learning strengthens teaching and improves the outcomes for ALL children.

Kate Hannon
Senior Director of Belle Children’s Services of St. Louis Arc

Childgarden enrolls students year round. To schedule your tour, contact Debbie Schmitz, Center Director, at 314-531-8148.