Authored by Dr. Elanna S. Yalow, Ph.D., M.B.A., Chief Academic Officer, KinderCare Education
KinderCare recently demonstrated its unyielding commitment to inclusion during one of the biggest early childhood education gatherings in the world. At the annual National Association for the Education of Young Children conference last month, our leadership team invited educators from across the U.S. to take KinderCare’s inclusion pledge, and bring the pledge to life in their schools and classrooms.
Our commitment is to create warm, welcoming classrooms for children of all abilities, backgrounds and experiences.
At KinderCare, our educational approach exemplifies inclusion, focusing on supporting and meeting the needs of every single child who comes into our programs. A common approach to addressing inclusion is to provide specific services to children with documented medical needs or physical disabilities. While this outlook comes from a sincere desire to give the best support for children with special needs, many if not most early childhood education programs approach inclusion through a compliance lens rather than an effort to serve as many children as possible and meet their individual needs.
In contrast to a compliance driven approach, KinderCare’s overarching goal is to meet the needs of every child, without categorization. We believe that each child is unique, learns differently, and requires an inclusive approach. We’re aligned with NAEYC, which has taken a stand to help all children reach their full potential, and we advocate for policies, practices, and systems that promote full and inclusive participation.
Our position is further strengthened by recent global research supporting the implementation of inclusion. For instance, A Summary of the Evidence on Inclusive Education, released in 2016 by ABT Associates, reviewed more than 280 research studies in 25 countries. The report concluded that, “The magnitude of the benefits of inclusive education may vary from one study to another, but the overwhelming majority either report significant benefits for students who are educated alongside their non-disabled peers or, at worst, show no differences between included and non-included students.”
As the largest child care provider in the U.S., serving 185,000 families in 40 states and the District of Columbia, we’re excited to take a leadership role on inclusion and continue to improve and grow our programs. That’s where essential tools and resources – feedback and data through surveys, research and assessments – come into play. Starting in 2012, we began using the BRIGANCE Early Childhood Screen, a widely used norm-referenced assessment tool, steadily increasing the scope of our evaluations since then.
The data analysis and results from BRIGANCE thus far are highly encouraging:
- Children who attend KinderCare Education programs are developmentally ahead of their peers after just one year in the program.
- By their third year in a KCE early learning program, children are nearly twice as likely to be exceeding benchmarks for their age and four times less likely to be flagged for possible developmental concerns.
- Children supported by KinderCare’s Inclusion Services stay on track with the progress of a matched group of peers. In fact, those children saw significant improvements in developmental status through the year.
- In a 2018 study of 115 children who received support from our Inclusion Services team the percent of children who were identified as having potential developmental delays dropped from 33 percent to only 23 percent from April to October.
The results speak to the strengths of KinderCare’s education programs, and the influence of our Inclusion Services team. Now the majority of our consultations are about ensuring the success of all children who can benefit from our program. The top issues that the Inclusion Team supports include how to prevent and address challenging behaviors such as biting, hitting, kicking, short attention spans, climbing and jumping; supporting children with documented disabilities or special needs; or helping centers advise parents about behavioral issues or challenges that their children may exhibit.
The Inclusion Services team creates materials for our teachers and center staff to help them better assist the children in their care. They’re also available to help connect teachers and families with local community resources and specialists. We’ve also found that inclusiveness attracts many of our employees, and we now hire into our culture with a lens of great, caring teachers who feel supported in giving their best to all of our children. Our teachers understand the extra attention that’s required to ensure that every child is successful in a classroom setting.
As we grow, such as through the acquisition of Rainbow Child Care Center, we are committed to maintaining inclusion as a pillar in all of KinderCare’s centers and to celebrate all children for who they are and who they will become. There is no greater inspiration for us than to make a significant difference for families by creating warm, welcoming classrooms for children of all abilities, backgrounds and experiences.