Preschool through Kindergarten NE/LRE Team Decision Making Module  

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Core Principles of an Inclusive Early Childhood Education


An inclusive early childhood education incorporates three core principles:


1. Every child with a disability is entitled to participate in early childhood settings and activities with their typically developing peers. 

  • Elementary school principal Lauren Sheehy describes how her inclusive school community values all children, and their families.

Historically, “mainstreaming” and “integration” programs expected children with disabilities to fit in to regular classrooms and curriculums. Currently, “inclusion” and “inclusive education programs” adapt settings to eliminate barriers to learning and foster participation among children of all ability levels.

Programs or classrooms do not become “inclusive” merely because they enroll one or more children with disabilities. Inclusive early childhood settings ensure access to all activities and materials for all children. They promote interaction and learning between children with disabilities with their peers without disabilities via group/individual activities and lessons. Inclusive settings also provide professional development to staff and foster collaboration among families and professionals.

Booth & Ainscow, 2002; Daniels and Garner, 1999; DEC/NAEYC, 2009


  • The NE/LRE Community Circle identifies early childhood settings in Maryland that meet the IDEA mandates for early intervention or preschool special education and related services.  

The IDEA requires that all:

  • Local school systems provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for eligible children with disabilities, ages three through 21. Special education and related services for young children with disabilities must be provided in the least restrictive environment, to the maximum extent appropriate.
  • Early intervention or preschool special education and related services be provided in settings, including a child’s home and community, in which children without disabilities participate. Services, including the Extended IFSP option, must be provided to children and families in their natural environments.

Consideration of early childhood options for NE or LRE for each eligible child is guided by an assessment of the child’s abilities, needs for support, as well as his or her Extended IFSP outcomes and IEP goals. This knowledge is gathered from multiple data sources, including a child’s family. The NE/LRE for an eligible child is selected by:

  • an Extended IFSP team, after IFSP outcomes have been revised


  • an IEP team after IEP goals and objectives have been developed.

2. Diversity among children, families, and providers, is celebrated.

  • Samantha‚Äôs Head Start teacher talks about including her in class activities.

The participation of young children with disabilities in community early childhood settings reflects the increasing diversity in American society, and acceptance of children, families and staff from a variety of backgrounds. Inclusive communities accept all children and families and support their participation in various early childhood settings and classrooms.

Barrera & Corso, 2003; Odom et al, 2004; Hanson, 2002

Culturally competent early childhood teams use materials and activities that value various cultures. Moreover, each team member makes an effort to see beyond the boundaries of his or her own cultural perspective to learn about, and respect each colleague’s and family member’s:

  • values and beliefs,
  • language and communication style,
  • understanding of words, actions and behaviors.

3. Collaboration among providers and agencies serving all young children is a cornerstone of a quality inclusive education. 

  • Maxine Maloney, an early childhood administrator, describes how it takes a team to support an inclusive early childhood education.

A child and family are at the heart of every early childhood team; parents are full and equal team members. Early childhood teams serving children with disabilities in inclusive settings include the following individuals:



Remember this...



Children and families are the center of every team.
Teams who work collaboratively share common goals, outcomes and decision making.

Team work is essential to supporting the participation and learning of children with disabilities in early childhood programs. All team members must work together to identify and implement an array of services and accommodations, from low to high tech, to promote a child’s learning, mobility and participation in activities with typically developing peers.

By their nature, early childhood implementation teams are community-based with interagency connections. Since team members may work for various agencies including the local public schools, Head Start, Judy Center Partnerships, and private preschools, they are not all together in the same location every day, or even every week. Collaborative partnerships are essential for creating a quality learning environment that supports the educational needs of all children.

Hanft, Shepherd & Read, 2010; Hunt et al, 2004; Lieber et al, 2002; Odom et al. 1999