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Curriculum > Preschool > Special Needs

Special Needs

HighScope’s active learning model provides inclusive experiences for children with and without disabilities. All children benefit when they participate actively in their own learning process and engage in authentic relationships with supportive adults who provide developmentally appropriate learning opportunities. HighScope’s curriculum provides children with the opportunity for access, participation, and support — the defining features of inclusion identified by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and the Council for Exceptional Children.

Active Learning

Children are intrinsically motivated, persistent in carrying out their intentions, and able to stay engaged. The longer children stay with an activity — working through challenges to achieve a desired outcome — the more they learn. The more they learn, the greater their curiosity to continue learning.

Children with special needs, like their typically developing peers, learn best when all active learning components are present:

  • Opportunities for children to make and talk about plans and choices
  • Diverse and abundant materials that children can explore an manipulate
  • Authentic relationships with adults who support and gently extend children’s learning

Teacher support should be individualized and based on each child’s current and emerging abilities. Research consistently shows that with the appropriate level of scaffolding and environmental support, children with disabilities demonstrate higher levels of engagement, which in turn leads to improved behavior interactions.

The Daily Routine

The HighScope daily routine structures the events of the day to provide consistency and flexibility. Consistent routines help children understand behavioral expectations, increase their on-task behavior, and develop self-regulation abilities. Young children, particularly children with special needs — who may have difficulty maintaining focus or responding to changes that occur in the daily routine — find comfort in knowing what comes next in the course of a program day.

The HighScope Curriculum and Embedded Intervention

In a HighScope classroom, learning goals are built around eight major curriculum content areas: Approaches to Learning; Social and Emotional Development; Physical Development and Health; Language, Literacy, and Communication; Mathematics; Creative Arts; Science and Technology; and Social Studies. Within each content area, HighScope identifies the key developmental indicators (KDIs) — observable milestones that occur during behaviors and activities children readily engage in. The KDIs provide a flexible system for organizing content that helps teachers understand and plan for each child’s individual development, so that the child’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) goals are integrated with the overall curriculum.

To ensure that children with differing abilities have full access to curriculum content, and are able to learn and use new skills in the context of meaningful everyday activities, adults in inclusive classrooms use a strategy called “embedded intervention.” This practice assists children with special needs in achieving their individualized goals and objectives by integrating learning opportunities into the child’s natural environment and daily routine with the classroom. In this way, embedded intervention builds on interests and preferences and promotes child engagement, socialization, and independence.

Embedded intervention is most effective when goals developed for the child with special needs are functional. Functional goals focus on promoting the child's success in everyday activities. The child will have more opportunities to learn and practice a skill if it is necessary for the child's participation in daily activities.

Child Assessment

Educators assess children to see how they are developing and to measure how the programs children attend contribute to the children's growth. Authentic, observation-based assessment looks at the strengths and skills of children in a developmentally appropriate way during everyday experiences and interactions. It also helps teachers to determine what they may need to change in the classroom environment to better support children’s learning. The best assessment tools are non-invasive and supportive of children’s naturally occurring behavior.

HighScope’s child assessment tool, COR Advantage, works seamlessly with the HighScope Curriculum's KDIs and other curriculum components. By using COR Advantage, teachers not only see children’s current developmental level, but have a good tool for deciding how to facilitate growth for children. Teachers are able to integrate goals and help reinforce the use of play as an intentional intervention for children.

To read more about COR Advantage, visit coradvantage.org.


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