Learn how to build inclusive and supportive programs that empower all children to thrive. From understanding the importance of disability inclusion to addressing challenges and leveraging helpful resources, find tips here to help you establish an environment that celebrates diversity and fosters growth.
Programs that promote, cultivate, and exemplify disability inclusion and behavior support have been proven to enrich lives and enhance the outcomes of all children and youth.
But program leaders, staff, and community groups aiming to build more inclusive environments face numerous challenges and considerations. How can the success of all children within our classrooms, recreational programs, and other learning spaces be ensured? And how can organizations build inclusive environments efficiently and effectively without straining resources?
Gathered from over 25 years of providing disability inclusion and behavior support training, Kids Included Together (KIT) offers top tips in this blog for establishing and maintaining inclusive programs, maximizing opportunities for all kids, and celebrating the rich diversity that makes us stronger together.
Exclusive KIT courses and resources are available to help you achieve your vision of disability inclusion and make a lasting impact on the lives of the children you serve.
For a quick, downloadable version of this blog to share with friends, colleagues, parents, volunteers, or program staff, check out our Top Tips for Inclusive Program Tip Sheet.
Tip #1: Communicate an Inclusive Mission
An inclusive mission is the foundation of any successful after-school or community program. Because some families may assume the exclusion of individuals with disabilities, it’s essential to clearly state your program’s disability inclusion policy and highlight that you welcome and can accommodate all kids who are interested in program participation.
One simple way to do this is to post your inclusion policy in a visible area in your facility, as well as on your website and social media channels, to encourage awareness among the entire program community.
In addition to posting your inclusion policy, make sure that you’re communicating it well. When you meet new parents, let them know that they are always welcome to approach you if they have any questions about their children attending the program or if they have any concerns about inclusion at your location.
Most parents are just looking for information, guidance, and reassurance that their child will be included in your events and activities; the last thing they want is for their child to be left out or feel excluded.
Remember that families are always the best resource in getting information about what your participants need, and having an open, proactive dialogue with them will help you better understand what matters most when planning and preparing activities. More importantly, it shows that you’re committed to making sure every kid has a positive experience and gets every opportunity to participate.
Use the KIT Tip Sheet Communicating Your Commitment to Inclusion and get a free guide to help you evaluate and enhance the messages your program conveys to children and families about disability inclusion.
Tip #2: Model Respect for Differences
Modeling respect for differences is a fundamental pillar in the journey towards creating inclusive environments for all children and youth. It goes beyond mere acceptance and tolerance and involves actively embracing and celebrating the rich tapestry of diversity within our communities.
When program leaders model respect for differences, they not only create an environment where children learn to appreciate and value the unique qualities that each individual brings, but they also set the tone and expectation for staff to do the same. When program leaders model respect for differences, they foster a culture of inclusivity and acceptance, ensuring that both children and staff cultivate empathy, understanding, and a profound sense of belonging.
To effectively do this, it’s essential to ensure that your printed materials and program displays reflect the diverse nature of your program.
Additionally, make an effort to spend time interacting with your participants and their families, actively seeking their perspectives, and using respectful language in all communications. By embodying this approach, you set a positive example for children, youth, and staff to follow, ultimately promoting a more inclusive and respectful atmosphere for everyone involved.
Take the KIT Academy Online Course Celebrating Differences to learn essential strategies to create opportunities for everyone to contribute meaningfully, reflect differences positively in a program environment, and model respect for differences.
Tip #3: Protect Confidentiality
Protecting the confidentiality of personal and medical information like a diagnosis is not only a legal obligation but a crucial step for building trust with families and maintaining a safe and supportive environment within your program.
Here are some quick guidelines to ensure that sensitive information remains secure and that families feel confident entrusting their personal details to your care.
- Only share information that is directly relevant to the participant’s engagement in the program. It is essential to exercise discretion and avoid disclosing unnecessary details that are unrelated to the individual’s participation or well-being. By adhering to this principle, you demonstrate respect for privacy and reinforce the trust families place in your program.
- Respect family preferences and work collaboratively to determine who needs to be aware of specific details. This fosters open communication, strengthens the partnership between your program and the family, and further establishes a foundation of trust.
- Encourage families to share relevant personal and medical information with your program, and assure them that such information will be kept confidential. Establish clear policies and procedures regarding the handling of confidential information and communicate these guidelines openly to families and staff members.
By demonstrating your commitment to confidentiality, you create an environment where families feel comfortable sharing information, helping your program foster a stronger partnership with them and enhancing the overall well-being of the participants.
Tip #4: Maintain Consistency
Establishing predictable routines is a powerful tool for managing expectations and providing a sense of stability for children and youth in your program.
One way to achieve this is to display daily schedules prominently. This allows participants to anticipate and prepare for the activities and transitions throughout the day. Clear visual cues such as a visual schedule or a posted timetable help all children understand the sequence of events and reduce anxiety.
Creating individual schedules can also be beneficial, especially for children with specific needs or preferences. Personalized schedules not only help kids navigate their day, but they also ensure that each child’s unique requirements and goals are accommodated, further demonstrating your commitment to inclusivity.
In addition, it’s important that you clearly communicate your program rules and expectations to all participants and consistently enforce them. Consistency helps participants understand boundaries, fosters a sense of fairness, and promotes a positive social atmosphere.
Use the Managing Group Transitions Tip Sheet to guide you in planning seamless transitions between outdoor and indoor environments, as well as between free play and organized activities. When you implement consistent transitions, you offer all children and youth a dependable structure, effectively managing their expectations and promoting a sense of stability.
Tip #5: Consider the Environment
When it comes to establishing and maintaining inclusive programs, the physical environment plays a crucial role. Designing a space that is thoughtful and accommodating can significantly contribute to creating a welcoming and supportive atmosphere for children and youth.
Consider the following key factors when designing your program’s environment.
- Take into account the sensory needs of the youth in your program. Recognizing that individuals have varying sensory sensitivities and creating an environment that respects and addresses these needs is essential. Consider factors such as lighting, noise levels, and the overall layout of the space.
- Organize materials and space for easy access. Ensure that materials, equipment, and resources are well-organized and easily reachable for all participants. This includes considering the height and accessibility of shelves, storage areas, and learning materials.
- Dedicate separate spaces for both quiet time and movement needs. Some participants may require moments of calm and solitude, while others may thrive in spaces that allow for physical activity and movement.
By carefully considering these factors and making intentional choices, you can design a space that promotes a sense of belonging, empowers participants, and enhances the overall experience for children in your program.
Use the KIT Tip Sheet Spaces to Meet Sensory Needs to help you intentionally plan movement and calming spaces in your program environment.
Tip #6: Nurturing Children & Youth: Providing Meaningful Support
As program leaders, it is essential to provide the necessary support to help children and youth thrive.
Teach children and youth to actively participate in activities, communicate effectively, and engage in positive interactions with their peers. Encourage and model inclusive behaviors, such as taking turns, active listening, and expressing thoughts and feelings respectfully.
Another vital approach is implementing individualized strategies based on the unique needs of each child. Recognize that individuals have diverse strengths, challenges, and learning styles.
By adapting your approach and providing individualized support, you ensure that each participant receives the specific assistance they require to succeed. This might involve creating personalized learning plans, offering additional guidance or modifications to activities, or providing specific accommodations that enable meaningful participation.
Overall, encouraging a safe and nurturing environment where participants feel comfortable trying new things and taking on challenges creates an atmosphere that promotes growth, independence, and resilience, empowering children to embrace their potential.
Take the KIT Academy Online Course from our “I Can Be Inclusive Series” Tips and Tools to Support Disability Inclusion for easy-to-use tools that represent the best practices in supporting children with disabilities.
Tip #7: Strengthening Staff Support
Collaboration and support among staff are vital components of a successful inclusive program. It is crucial to establish strong partnerships with your team to ensure the success and well-being of all participants.
One key approach is to offer assistance when needed. Recognize that staff members may encounter challenges or require support in various aspects of the program. Be attentive and responsive to their needs, whether it’s providing guidance, sharing expertise, or lending a helping hand.
Additionally, prioritize the development of staff confidence and the reduction of staff stress. One way to do this is to utilize the ongoing support and training offered by KIT, all designed to help equip your team with the necessary tools and resources to enhance their abilities, build their confidence, and alleviate their stress.
Finally, ensure that you acknowledge the efforts, struggles, and successes of your staff. Celebrate milestones, both big and small, and offer consistent words of encouragement and gratitude.
In a truly inclusive program environment, support takes on a proactive meaning. This means building a collaborative atmosphere where staff work together, united in their commitment to fostering the well-being and growth of all children and youth in your program.
Take the KIT Academy Online Course from our “Leadership Series” Building a Support Network to learn how to use resiliency practices to build support network connections among staff. In addition, the course from our I Can Be Inclusive Series: Family Collaboration offers best practices for collaborating with families to support their child’s inclusion.
Tip #8: Continual Assessment
Continual evaluation is a key aspect of sustaining an inclusive program that addresses the evolving needs of children. This means regularly evaluating the effectiveness of your inclusion strategy and approach to help you identify areas for improvement and celebrate successes.
Start by periodically assessing what is going well and what needs improvement in your program. Take the time to reflect on the different aspects of your program, including policies, activities, and interactions. Engage in open and honest discussions with your team to gather diverse perspectives.
Remember that failure is an opportunity for growth. If an idea or approach does not yield the desired outcome, embrace it as a learning experience. Analyze what went wrong and identify the underlying factors. Learn from the experience and use it to inform your future decisions and actions.
Conversely, when an idea succeeds, share it with others! Share your successes with staff and colleagues, especially if they can benefit your program in the long run.
Lastly, seek opportunities for brainstorming, troubleshooting, and fresh ideas. Connect with fellow program leaders, educators, and experts in the disability inclusion field. Reach out for support, guidance, and collaboration. Embrace the power of collective wisdom and diverse perspectives to tackle challenges and explore new possibilities, strengthening your program’s inclusion goals.
Use the KIT Inclusion Checklist for Programs to help you quickly and easily assess your program today!
Need more help? Contact KIT and our experienced staff will work
with you to create a program that meets your specific needs!