Including all children – a student teacher’s reflection September 20, 2016Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Inclusive Education.
Tags: children with special needs, teacher education
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By Robert Mccluskey
I am currently studying at Western Sydney University and am in my last year of the Master of Teaching (Birth-12) Program. I have recently completed a professional experience placement in a long day care centre.
During my time at the centre one of the learning foci in my studies was the design and implementation of an inclusion plan for a child with disability. This was a new experience for me, as I hadn’t worked with many children with disabilities before so I was initially quite nervous that it would be beyond my capabilities as a pre-service educator.
Initially, I was concerned that without knowing the specifics of a child’s diagnosis, and the impacts that it may have on their learning and development, it would be difficult to cater for any of the child’s additional needs. So I spoke with the parents and staff, to learn more about the strategies that were currently being implemented and to find out about the long term and short term goals. I also researched the diagnosis in greater depth, in an effort to understand the day-to-day impact that it would have on the child’s learning.
What did I do?
The main focus for the inclusion plan was for the child to initiate in parallel and social play situations. This was done by prompting the children to play in groups, creating situations for partner play through transitions, i.e. each child picks a friend, and a construction project in which the children built and evolved a miniature construction site in the centre’s outdoor play area. It was important when implementing any of the learning opportunities for all of the centre’s staff to be informed beforehand so they could support the inclusion plan’s success.
Benefits for the child?
I found that forming positive social relationships helped generate positive self-esteem in the child. (Dunlap, 2009). I also noted that through these social relationships, the child was also able to further develop important social and language skills. (Flint, Kitson, Lowe, & Shaw, 2014). Children benefit from positive social interactions with peers and educators they respect. The inclusion plan I designed was focused on the parent’s main goal of nurturing and expanding on the child’s social interactions. In developing this plan, I hoped to see a notable benefit to all the children. Throughout my studies I learnt that inclusive practices don’t only benefit children with disabilities, but can positively support the development of all children.
What made the inclusion plan successful?
The inclusion plan’s success was largely due to collaborating with families and the educators, the ongoing dialogue with parents and staff about the child’s progress which allowed for constructive feedback to be provided. Both these elements were critical to the development of the program and its success.
Benefits for me
In working with a child with disability, I was able to understand the importance of being able to implement a range of teaching strategies so as to be able to include all the children in my care. This is a lesson that I will definitely take into my professional future, it is clear to me that stronger inclusive practices are beneficial to all of the children involved.
Dunlap, L. L. (2009). The importance of play. In An introduction to early childhood special education: Birth to age five (pp. 352-387). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Pearson.
Flint, A. S., Kitson, L., Lowe, K., & Shaw, K. (2014). Literacy in Australia: Pedagogies for engagement. Milton, Australia: John Wiley and Sons Australia.
Robert Mccluskey is a final year student in the Master of Teaching (Birth-12) Program offered by the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. His post was initially published on the education blog site, Online Community of Practice, and is reproduced here with his permission.
Tags: children with special needs, food allergy, health and physical education
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Soon, a number of children with food allergy will be starting school in Australia. When children are transitioning to school with food allergy, parents will be concerned about their child’s safe and inclusive participation in all school activities, increased risks of food allergy via accidental exposure from others, how quickly a child’s allergy can be identified and addressed and importantly, whether a young child has the capacity to stay safe at school (Sanagavarapu, 2012).
Before children start school, parents assume a primary responsibility for their young child’s safety. However, at the time of starting school, it’s imperative that children also assume some responsibility for their safety at school where there will be diminished adult or parental supervision.
But the question is, can a 4 and a half year old (the starting age for schools in New South Wales) understand his or her food allergy and what an allergic reaction is, and alert his or her teacher to the allergic reaction promptly and seek timely help? Can young children resist the temptation to accept unsafe foods when offered by their peers at school? Can they advocate for their own safety, age appropriately? Or is it too much to ask a young child to take responsibility for his or her safety and the management of food allergy at school?
Adolescents are cognitively and emotionally competent to grasp the implications of food allergy (e.g., Fenton et al., 2011) and can manage to stay safe independently. However, it is not known if young children understand their food allergy and its implications and can stay safe at school with limited adult supervision.
Our pilot study on ‘Starting school with food allergy’ (Sanagavarapu, Said, Katelaris & Wainstein, 2014), funded by Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia, has provided valuable insights into children’s knowledge and understanding of food allergy and safety at school. In this study interviews were conducted with six children affected by food allergy, aged between four and a half to six years old, in Sydney, Australia.
These interviews with children have pointed to the need to scaffold young children’s knowledge of their own food allergy, and of their safety and its self-management, at the time of starting school.
To stay safe, children must be able to recognise foods that they are allergic to and avoid them by all means, essentially by resisting temptations to accept or share such foods with others.
All children in our study named the foods that they can and can’t eat, and most children also recognised those affected foods from photos shown in the interview. Further, all children knew the various symptoms of food allergy, saying things like:
“ I keep coughing and coughing”; “my mouth gets funny”; “sometimes I scratch my mouth when it’s itchy and it takes a while to get unitchy”; “I start to vomit and get spots”.
One child even mentioned the prospect of a fatality from an allergic reaction (commenting, “You will die”), while another child labelled the condition medically (saying, “I also have anaphylaxis”).
Additionally, most children had a range of strategies to prevent the potential risks of food allergy. These included refusing to accept foods from others, checking with teacher or mum, and peer education through to a simple and effective strategy of hand washing. To quote:
“I try my best to not eat”.
“I say stop”.
“Even if they told me it is yummy, I say “I can’t eat them”.
“At big school you don’t share food”.
“I only eat my own food”.
But, not all children seemed to be able to resist temptations to accept foods, and some children trusted their peers’ assurances and risk assessments, which can be potentially risky. To quote:
“if my friend says, it does not have eggs or nuts, I will have it”.
“I would ask if it had nuts and if it did not I would eat it”.
In terms of seeking help, all children knew who to go for help when needed. They said it would be their class teacher in the first instance, and or friends at school. Drawing from their own knowledge and experiences of food allergy, children in our study offered advice to other children which included:
• Tell others you have food allergy;
• Don’t eat foods you are allergic to, and
• Don’t share food with others.
This advice from children implies a preventative approach to safety that corresponds with the preventative approaches that parents generally take in the management of food allergy, because currently there is no known cure for allergy. The most effective way to manage food allergy is to prevent the risks in the first instance, and administer antihistamine and adrenaline autoinjector if needed.
The advice provided by children in this study to other children starting school is simple, yet invaluable in reducing the risks of food allergy at school. Although based on a small sample, our study findings offer valuable implications and suggestions to parents, teachers and children in promoting the safety of children with food allergy at school. They are below.
For parents or caregivers
• Talk to your child age appropriately about his or her food allergy and its symptoms, without alarming them about the consequences of food allergy.
• Help your child to recognise and label foods that he or she is allergic to in various forms and via grocery shopping, books, and through pictures in advertising materials and catalogues.
• Age appropriately, also assist your child to recognise and read food labels.
• Encourage your child to share information on his or her food allergy with teachers and peers at school, and with before and or after school staff.
• Raise the awareness of your child’s classmates on food allergy with the help of the school/class teacher.
• Develop simple scripts with your child that she or he can use to communicate when unwell and to seek help from an adult or peer at school when needed.
• Reinforce the simple message of ‘no sharing or accepting foods’ from others and that they eat their own lunch/tea.
• Scaffold self-control strategies with the child to resist temptations, albeit at varying levels, and age appropriately via reading stories, mock sessions and role plays before children start school and in the transitional periods.
For educators or schools
• Incorporate the simple message of ‘no sharing or accepting of food’ into classroom discussions and promote and implement policy of ‘no sharing of food’.
• Raise the awareness of all children about food allergy through the reading of stories about children starting school with food allergy or other strategies.
• Scaffold self-control strategies to resist temptations, albeit at varying levels, and age appropriately via reading stories, mock sessions and role plays at school.
• Collaborate and communicate with parents or caregivers on matters of the food allergy management to promote child safety.
• Know your food allergy.
• Do not share foods with others.
• Say ‘no’ to food politely when offered from others, even friends.
• Let an adult or peer know when feeling unwell.
Fenton, N.E., J. S. Elliott, L. Cicutto, A. E. Clarke, L. Harada, and E. McPhee. (2011). Illustrating Risk: Anaphylaxis Through the Eyes of the Food-Allergic Child, Risk Analysis, DOI: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2010.01488.x
Sanagavarpu, P., Said, M., Katelaris, C., Wainstein, B. (2014). Starting school with food allergy: Listening to parents’ and children’s voices. Research Report Commissioned by and prepared for Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia. University of Western Sydney, Australia.
Sanagavarapu, P. (2012). Don’t forget to pack my EpiPen® please? What issues does food allergy present for children’s starting school? Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 37 (2), 56-61.
Dr. Prathyusha Sanagavarapu is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. Her research interests include the areas of starting school, food allergy and children’s health, and issues around family diversity and parenting.
My child: 5 important things teachers need to know October 22, 2013Posted by christinefjohnston in Inclusive Education.
Tags: children with special needs, personalised learning
As a mother of a child with special needs, what follows are the five most important things I wanted to share with teachers as you undertake the very important job of teaching my child.
1. It is important that you listen carefully – both to me and to my child. This is important for a number of reasons. Teachers may well know the curriculum, but as a parent I know my child and his issues better than anyone else. I have sat in on hours of appointments with specialists, itinerant teachers, doctors etc. I have held my child’s hand and wiped his tears when he underwent hurtful interventions or traumatic and risky tests. Further, I deal with the many day to day issues that arise with my child. I’m the one who comforted him when he was told that he couldn’t drive for an unlimited time two days after he got his L plates. I’m the one who ensures he is fed a balanced diet, is dressed for the day, does his homework and that he gets enough sleep. Teachers please don’t be afraid to tell me that you don’t know what to do when dealing with my child and when you are confused or don’t understand something. I love it when teachers are willing to seek my advice and knowledge. It tells me that you value my experience, my opinion and are willing to work with me in educating my child.
2. Don’t be afraid to set high expectations for my child in your class. Sure, make allowances or adaptions or accommodations and yes provide scaffolding and direction, but also make sure my child is challenged. You need to truly believe that my child is capable of learning when given appropriate opportunities and supportive environments. You may just be pleasantly surprised by what my child shows you he can do. Further give my child a chance to experience success once you have challenged him and then celebrate that success with him. This encourages my child to always want to succeed. As I wrote this piece I asked my son what advice he would have for any of his past or present teachers and his answer was that he likes it when his teachers “treat him like every other child but also help him when he asks for it.”
3. Use any special knowledge or interests my child has to your advantage. Further don’t be afraid to use these interests in building your relationship with my child or as a motivational tool. Ensure that you provide ample opportunities for my child to tell you what he knows – there is nothing he likes better. For example, my son has always been incredibly interested in space – he hopes to be astrophysicist. I suspect his knowledge around space would rival most teachers’ knowledge – certainly he knows a lot more than me about it. What a wonderful human resource to have in your classroom. Let go of the need to be in control and let my child share his knowledge with others. You don’t always have to be the ‘teacher.’
4. Remember, however hard it might be dealing with my child or however difficult you feel my child is being, just getting through a day is challenging for him. My son is exhausted when he gets home as he negotiates the physical, academic and social challenges he faces each school day. My son came home from a participating in a sports carnival in so much pain that we had to carry him to the bath. I imagine that the day was challenging for his teacher’s aide but I am certain she wasn’t the one sobbing from physical pain that night.
5. Look beyond my child’s disability. His disability is just one part of him. Just as other children have blue eyes or freckles my child’s disability doesn’t and shouldn’t define him. My son is more than his disabilities. I want his teachers to see the sensitive, smart, kind hearted and hardworking child he is.
My hope is that this has given teachers something to think about, both those just beginning their teaching journey and those more experienced. Most of the parents of a child with special needs that I know, simply want the same thing you do – the best for their child. My greatest wish is for supportive, thoughtful, caring, and knowledgeable teachers, as they undertake their all-important work in educating my child.