Why does ‘intentional inclusion’ matter in Early Years’ education?
Intentional inclusion is crucial in Early Years’ education to create a diverse and inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and respected. This blog explores the importance of intentional inclusion, its significance for teachers and caregivers of young English language learners, and practical strategies to promote diversity, belonging, and equitable learning opportunities. Learn how intentional inclusion can transform education and create a positive learning environment for all
What is ‘intentional inclusion’?
Intentional inclusion refers to a deliberate and proactive effort to create a diverse and inclusive environment – one where individuals from different backgrounds feel valued and respected.
The goal of intentional inclusion is to ensure that everyone is given equal opportunities to participate, contribute, and succeed, regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or any other characteristic.
Intentional inclusion involves being aware of and actively challenging implicit biases and assumptions, and creating a culture where diversity and inclusion are not just buzzwords, but integral parts of our values and goals. It involves us fostering a sense of belonging and promoting equity and fairness.
Following are some examples of intentional inclusion strategies you may already be doing or might consider adding to your toolkit:
- Encouraging diverse perspectives and ideas
- Creating inclusive environments where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions
- Celebrating diversity and recognising the contributions of all participants
- Recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce
- Establishing diversity and inclusion goals
- Providing training and education on diversity, equity, and inclusion
Intentional Inclusion: why it matters in Early Years’ Education
In a globalized world where people from diverse cultures and linguistic backgrounds come together, intentional inclusion has become a critical concept in education.
In this field, intentional inclusion refers to the deliberate and purposeful actions that educators and caregivers take to create welcoming and inclusive environments where every child feels valued, respected, and supported. It is an approach that recognizes and celebrates the differences and diversity of learners, rather than seeing them as obstacles to be overcome.
Intentional inclusion is necessary in early years education because research has shown that children as young as three years old can develop biases based on factors such as race, gender, and ethnicity. A study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology found that pre-schoolers tend to view their own gender and ethnicity in a more positive light than other genders and ethnicities, indicating the need for intentional efforts to promote diversity and inclusivity in early childhood settings.
Without intentional inclusion efforts in early years education, children may not receive exposure to diverse perspectives and experiences, which can limit their understanding and empathy towards others. For example, if a classroom only displays books and materials that feature characters who are white and able-bodied, children who do not fit this mould may feel excluded or invisible. This can also perpetuate harmful stereotypes and biases.
In contrast, intentional inclusion efforts in early years education can help create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all children. This can be achieved by incorporating diverse materials and activities that celebrate different cultures, languages, and abilities, and by creating opportunities for children to learn about and appreciate differences in a positive and respectful way. By doing so, young children can develop the necessary skills and attitudes to become empathetic and inclusive individuals, setting the foundation for a more equitable and just society.
Intentional Inclusion: why it matters for teachers and caregivers of young English Language learners
While intentional inclusion is crucial for all children, regardless of their background, this blog will now specifically emphasize its significance for teachers and caregivers of young English language learners (ESL/EAL). However, it is important to note that the benefits and strategies discussed herein, can also be applied to other instances requiring intentional inclusion.
Children for whom English is a second or additional language, often come from households where English is not the primary language, and on top of having to learn more than one language, they may also face additional challenges such as cultural differences, social isolation, and limited English proficiency.
Here are some ways in which intentional inclusion can benefit these young English language learners:
- Creates a sense of belonging: Children who feel included in the classroom or learning environment are more likely to participate and engage in learning activities. They feel a sense of belonging and ownership, which helps to build their confidence and self-esteem.
- Promotes language development When children feel comfortable and safe in their environment, they are more likely to use and practice their language skills. Teachers and caregivers can intentionally create opportunities for English language learners to interact with their peers and practice language in authentic contexts.
- Supports social-emotional development: Intentional inclusion involves recognizing and valuing the unique backgrounds and experiences of every child. This can help to promote positive relationships and empathy among children, leading to enhanced social and emotional development.
- Fosters cultural competence: Intentional inclusion requires educators and caregivers to have a deep understanding of the cultures and languages represented in the classroom. This can help to create a culturally responsive environment where children feel valued and respected for their unique backgrounds.
…let’s make it our goal to intentionally include every child and foster a positive learning environment that benefits everyone!
Achieving effective intentional inclusion in classrooms and learning environments requires us to first obtain a comprehensive understanding of our children’s needs, strengths, and interests, as well as adapting our instructions and activities to cater to their diverse learning styles.
But what does this look like in practice?
- Building relationships: Take time to get to know each child and their family. Create opportunities for parents and caregivers to share information about their culture and language. This can help to build relationships based on trust and respect.
- Using culturally responsive materials: Incorporate books, music, and other materials that reflect the diversity of your classroom and it’s local community. This can help children to see themselves and their culture represented in the curriculum.
- Using a variety of teaching strategies: Intentional inclusion requires flexibility and an understanding that not all children learn in the same way. Use a variety of teaching strategies, such as visual aids, hands-on activities, and group work, to meet the diverse needs presented by your students.
- Encouraging peer interactions: Provide opportunities for English language learners to interact with their peers and to practice language in authentic contexts. This can help to build their confidence and language skills.
Intentional inclusion is not just about avoiding discrimination or complying with legal requirements. It is about recognizing the value of diversity and creating a culture where everyone can thrive and reach their full potential.
Intentional inclusion is a critical concept for teachers and caregivers of young English language learners. It requires a deep understanding of the unique needs, strengths, and interests of each child, and a willingness for us to adapt instructions and activities to meet their diverse learning styles.
By intentionally including every child, educators and caregivers can create welcoming and inclusive environments where children feel appreciated, respected, and encouraged in their learning journey. So, let’s make it our goal to intentionally include every child and foster a positive learning environment that benefits everyone!
Dr Clare Seymour
Clare has spent much of her professional career (over 30 years) in international settings. Part of her Doctoral research involved exploring the often hidden aspects of institutional racism. As a result she has a longstanding interest in, and passion for, promoting positive Diversity.
In addition to school music-teaching, Clare also has over 10 years’ experience working as an international music examiner – an understanding and respect for Diversity is so crucially important in every aspect of her practice.