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Preschool integration: strategies for teachers.

Two small boys on the stage that night Each child aware of the eyes and lights The program begins the story is told Children burst forth as their song unfolds One small boy stands as if beguiled Another tiny hand joins with this child To bring comfort through a shared rapport A friendship dawns with care and support.

This scenario, captured in verse, makes apparent the benefits of integration in Early Childhood Education (ECE) and Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) programs. At a pre-kindergarten program for parents, two small boys who might never have met shared the spotlight and companionship. Because two teachers saw the inherent possibilities of an integrated program, one "regular ed" child and one "special ed" child had the opportunity to become partners in a school setting.

ECE and ECSE educators have long recognized the importance of early intervention with developmentally delayed children. The long-term benefits associated with early quality preschool programs include: 1) increased IQ scores, 2) decreased time spent in special education classes, 3) reduced education costs, 4) reduced crime and delinquency, 5) fewer teen pregnancies and 6) improved socialization (Schweinhart, Berrueta-Clement, Barnett, Epstein & Weikart, 1985). Research indicates that preschool integration positively influences children with disabilities as well as children with regular needs, helping both groups develop positive attitudes and social interaction, and increase their language and skill acquisition (Hanline & Murray, 1984).

When the Head Start Program received funding in 1964, the importance of early schooling began receiving national recognition. Educators envisioned early programs as powerful tools against poverty and illiteracy. Early intervention for developmentally delayed young children became a feature of Public Law 99-457, The Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1986 (Cook, Tessier & Klein, 1992). Further federal legislation helped serve a greater diversity of children, including those designated as at-risk for developmental delays or disabilities (P.L. 100-297, P.L. 101-476 and P.L. 102-119). When the National Education Goals Panel set guidelines in 1989, it stated, as its first goal, that "all children will start school ready to learn" by the year 2000. Terms such as "least restrictive environment" (LRE) and "Individualized Family Service Plans" (IFSPs) are now commonly used.

While teachers and administrators clearly would like to integrate prekindergarten programs, strategies for doing so are only fledgling. Part of the problem is the lack of pertinent information for implementing integrated programs on a specific day-to-day basis. Successful programs should "adapt curricula to meet the needs of children with a wide range of differences in skills, learning styles, background and potential" (Cook, Tessier & Klein, 1992, p. 34). Planning and implementation of such programs will require a deliberate integration process coordinated by early childhood education teachers, special education teachers, school administrators and parents. A number of professional organizations, including the Association for Childhood Education International, have published position papers in support of the rights of children and their families to receive educational services (Association for Childhood Education International/Sexton, Snyder, Sharpton & Stricklin, 1993).

What Does Integration/Inclusion/Mainstreaming/LRE Mean?

One widely accepted definition of "integration" specifies primary placement in a self-contained special education classroom during at least one half of the school day, with opportunities for interactions with nondisabled peers. Such an approach is frequently referred to as a least restrictive environment (LRE). "Inclusion" refers "to the education of all students in neighborhood classrooms and schools" (Stainback & Stainback, 1992). "Mainstreaming" is "the temporal, instructional and social integration of eligible exceptional children with normal peers . . ." (Kaufman, Gottlieb, Agard & Kukic, 1975). Mainstreaming requires placing an individual child in a regular classroom, with more than 50 percent of the child's school day spent in that classroom.

Effective Strategies for Integration

Two teachers, one in a Chapter 1 ECE program and the other in an ECSE program, collaborated on developing strategies for classroom integration. The Chapter 1 ECE class (with one teacher and two instructional aides) consisted of 19 children who scored below average on the DIAL-R Preschool Screening Instrument and/or lived in a low socioeconomic neighborhood. The ECSE class (with one teacher, a behavioral specialist and one aide) contained nine children identified as extremely language delayed or exhibiting challenging behaviors. These teachers found the following ten strategies to be beneficial in implementing a successful integration effort.

1. Instructional methods. Integrated classrooms should have instructional methods based on combining the developmental approach of ECE and the more structured approach of ECSE. Teachers who work together in joint programs incorporate developmental activities and structured, direct instruction into a complementary learning network for students with and without disabilities (Kugelmass, 1989; Poresky & Hooper, 1984; Rule, Stowitschek, Innocenti, Striefel, Killoran & Swezey, 1987; Stevenson & Dondey, 1987).

The Activity-Based Intervention Approach recommended by Bricker and Cripe supports the use of direct instruction for teaching receptive and expressive vocabulary acquisition. Acquisition of generalizations increased significantly under such an activity-based approach (Bricker & Cripe, 1992). This study emphasizes the need for clarifying program goals prior to embarking on the plan.

2. Children's participation in planning. The highest priority when implementing an integration program is to include children from each classroom in the planning stage. In one prekindergarten integration model, teachers of ECE and ECSE classes introduced their students to the idea of integrating with one another. The teachers initiated a discussion with each class on the definition of "needs." Each class identified children's needs, and then individually stated their own unique special needs. Eventually, the classes discussed integration with another class and the "special needs" each class might have. A follow-up discussion of "friends helping friends" emphasized positive goals.

3. Structured integration situations. While proximity is not generally recognized as an important factor for increasing interaction, it was effective with this group of children. The teachers set up a shared breakfast time in which they seated children from both classes next to each other to encourage social skills development. Later, the children were allowed to choose their own seats. Aides were assigned to each table of eight and the two teachers moved about the room. Other opportunities for providing structured integration included shared lunch or snack times, in which paired children set the tables and served food. Children made comments in this setting such as, "Nakin give Thomas his napkin to wipe milk off his shirt" and "I opened the windows and door on Kaylin's milk."

4. Teachers modeling appropriate behavior. Teachers participated with the children during morning playground time in ball games, sand activities and interplay on the climbing equipment. The teachers took advantage of these opportune times to unobtrusively bring children together through play and emphasizing shared interests with remarks such as "Kyle, would you like to play London Bridge with Johnny and me?" or "Kyle, come and see what Michael's building in the sand."

5. Shared classroom and play yard space. As activities rotated between the ECE and ECSE classrooms, play areas provided a sense of sharing and ownership for all the children. Sharing began prior to the program's total integration, as students shuttled between the classrooms for stories, socio-dramatic events and group-to-group introductions.

6. Play groups arranged. Each child from the Chapter 1 prekindergarten class chose a companion from the self-contained prekindergarten special education class. The children would take turns introducing their companion to activities in their respective classrooms. This shared activity gave each child an opportunity to become a leader and spokesperson for his/her own classroom.

7. Centers and play areas arranged for small groups. Play areas or centers limited to several children were more successful than those designed for larger numbers of children. Children interacted more appropriately in groups of two or four - sharing ("Tonya, here diaper for you' baby"), discussing ("What you putting on you' pizza, cheese?"), creating ("Look, look, me and Lemetrix made a slide from blocks!") and exploring ("Come see, come see, Latavia and me got water in our hole!"). When children were grouped by three, two of the children would often "gang up" against the other one unless an adult was actively involved, as these recorded conversations indicate: "We gonna be the mommas and you gotta do what we say!" and "Suzie and me don' want you playin' in home livin'!"

8. Appropriate behaviors praised. When first integrated, the children often engaged in parallel play. Teachers were quick to praise interactive behavior: "Manuel and Jose, you are being good friends putting your blocks together to make a zoo." Such encouragement helped develop interactive play. Using an instant camera, teachers photographed instances of appropriate interactive play. These pictures gave the children immediate positive reinforcement and were placed in the classroom photograph album for subsequent viewing and discussion. Appropriate play interactions were also recorded on video, generating a great deal of positive response and discussion from the children.

9. Opportunities provided for imitative behavior. The teachers made available sets of toys or activities (such as Mr. Potato Head, pattern blocks, stringing beads, clay centers and finger paint trays) for children to work with beside each other. Teachers recognized not only accomplishments, but also attempts to play together: "Keyona and Shawn are working on matching necklaces with the stringing beads!" Providing ample materials for play often led to children imitating others' work and assisting one another. Fluids and tactile mixtures, including sand, rice and bean mixtures, water, shaving cream, corn starch, paint, etc., encouraged shared experiences with a minimum of teacher intervention.

10. Cooperative learning activities. Cooperative activities appeared to establish a rapport between children and a sense of support for each other. During parachute play, for example, children spontaneously shared handle grips on the parachute with "new" friends. "Come hold my 'chute, Lattice!" or "Here's one for you!" A particularly special moment developed during a balloon activity. Two new friends who had been playing catch joined hands on their balloon and together placed it in the box when the color of their balloon was called. They then turned to each other, smiled and found a seat in the circle beside each other, happy in their new friendship and content with their accomplishment.

Group participation in parachute, bean bag toss, balloon, ball and musical activities appeared to foster trust within the group. A class listening center was set up so children had to share when listening to a book or using a computer. The children did in fact take turns turning the pages on the book in the listening center and offered advice when a friend needed help on the computer.

Barriers to Integration

Attitude is critical to planning and implementing a successful preschool integration effort. A national survey of parents, policy officials, and program directors of child care and Head Start centers indicated that approximately 60 percent of those surveyed cited negative attitudes toward integration as a barrier (Rose & Smith, 1993). Possible reasons for teachers' negative attitudes may be founded in a lack of knowledge about disabilities, uncertainty about dealing with children who have disabilities and frustration about the extra effort they imagine would be involved.

Teachers express concerns about "turf, teacher preparedness, awareness, someone will lose, and communication/respect" (Rose & Smith, 1993, p. 59). Positive teacher attitude, however, is essential to successful integration. Teachers with positive attitudes toward integration are more likely to have open communication with parents, administrators and support personnel. Asking for teacher input about possible integration is the first step toward encouraging such positive attitudes.

Three possible concerns for ECE and ECSE teachers are: philosophical differences regarding instructional strategies, instructional planning and classroom management. ECE programs embrace a child-centered approach in which children explore, discover and absorb the learning environment at their own developmental levels. ECSE programs identify children's specific needs and design a curriculum to provide structured learning experiences. While ECE educators incorporate individualization into the thematic and play curriculum, ECSE teachers typically prepare IFSPs and Individual Educational Plans (IEPs). Classroom management strategies also differ. ECSE teachers often rely on rules, rewards and punishment, while ECE teachers are more likely to use behavioral programs centered on relationship-listening skills.

How can these barriers be overcome? Odom and McEvoy (1990) recommend encouraging positive teacher attitudes with: 1) supportive policy statements on preschool mainstreaming from national early childhood organizations, 2) supportive policy statements on preschool mainstreaming from local early childhood administrators [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED], 3) staff members who are committed to the mainstream program, 4) official recognition of mainstream staff, 5) establishment of an ongoing inservice program, 6) establishment of a realistic teacher-child ratio and 7) instructional support and teacher training for special education teachers. Teachers who are trained in effective early intervention methods and supported by peers, administrators and parents develop positive attitudes that enable them to meet classroom challenges and recognize the unique potential of each child regardless of ability or disability.


The successful integration of Early Childhood and Early Childhood Special Education programs requires careful planning, flexibility and initiative from cooperative teachers. Successful programs can be easily designed to nurture a learning environment that is founded in exploration and discovery, yet provides structural boundaries as well. As interactive play between students in regular and special education classes does not occur naturally, it must be initiated through subtle teacher interaction (Hanline, 1985).

All children benefit from positive peer role models, leadership opportunities, acceptance of unique needs and friendships. Certain strategies and activities that only require a minimum of teacher intervention can help develop positive sustaining behaviors. Carefully chosen games for developing cooperative behaviors can encourage problem-solving skills rather than a sense of competition (Stainback & Stainback, 1990). A program's strength relies on a teacher-student ratio that ensures each child is nurtured, supported and encouraged in such a way to achieve maximum development. Finally, high quality early childhood programs recognize the inherent differences among children and provide a natural environment for early integration.


Association for Childhood Education International/Sexton, D., Snyder, P., Sharpton, W., & Stricklin, S. (1993). Infants and toddlers with special needs and their families. Childhood Education, 69, 278-276.

Bricker, D., & Cripe, J. J. W. (1992). An activity-based approach to early intervention. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Cook, R. E., Tessier, A., & Klein, M.D. (Eds.). (1992). Adapting early childhood curricula for children with special needs. New York: Merrill.

Hanline, M. F. (1985). Integrating disabled children. Young Children, 40(2), 45-48.

Hanline, M. F., & Murray, C. (1984). Integrating severely handicapped children into regular public schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 66, 273-276.

Kaufman, M. J., Gottlieb, J., Agard, J. A., & Kukic, M. B. (1975). Mainstreaming: Toward an explication of the construct. Focus on Exceptional Children, 7, 1-12.

Kugelmass, J. W. (1989). The "shared classroom": A case study of interactions between early childhood and special education staff and children. Journal of Early Intervention, 13(1), 36-44.

Odom, S. L., & McEvoy, M. A. (1990). Mainstreaming at the preschool level: Potential barriers and tasks for the field. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 10(2), 48-61.

Poresky, R. H., & Hooper, D.J. (1984). Enhancing prosocial play between handicapped and nonhandicapped preschool children. Psychological Reports, 54, 391-402.

Rose, D., & Smith, B. (1993). Preschool mainstreaming: Attitude barriers and strategies for addressing them. Young Children, 48(4), 57-62.

Rule, S., Stowitschek, J., Innocenti, M., Striefel, S., Killoran, J., & Swezey, K. (1987). The social integration program: An analysis of the effects of mainstreaming handicapped children into daycare centers. Education and Treatment of Children, 10(2), 175-192.

Schweinhart, L. J., Berrueta-Clement, J. R., Barnett, W. S., Epstein, A. S., & Weikart, D. P. (1985). The promise of early childhood education. Phi Delta Kappan, 66, 545-547.

Stainback, W., & Stainback, S. (Eds.). (1990). Support networks for inclusive schooling. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.

Stainback, W., & Stainback, S. (1992). Controversial issues confronting special education: Divergent perspectives. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Stevenson, S. E., & Dondey, C. (1987). Forming cooperative programs for mainstreaming preschool children with severe behavior disorders: Policy, programmatic and procedural issues. Paper presented at the annual conference of the Association for the Severely Handicapped, San Francisco, CA.

Sarah H. Stafford is a Prekindergarten Teacher, Caroline Brevard Elementary School, Tallahassee, Florida. Virginia P. Green is Professor, Early Childhood Education, Florida State University, Tallahassee.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Association for Childhood Education International
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Author:Green, Virginia P.
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Jun 22, 1996
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