Providing Enabling and Inclusive Environments
Let’s make the possible, possible.
We talk about the term enabling a lot when it comes to environments for children within an early years setting, how to create an enabling environment, how to plan for an enabling environment, and factors contributing to an enabling environment. But do we know what this really is?
What does enabling mean anyway?
To enable us to ‘make something possible’. I guess then the question for us to consider is what is it we are trying to make possible, can we quantify this, and can we measure this?
As a parent and early years educator, my aim has always been to make everything possible for children. For them to be supported and encouraged to thrive, achieve their potential, enjoy their early childhood, develop deep curiosity through a range of experiences and opportunities, within spaces that meet and allow for their individual and diverse needs, to build the foundation for a love of learning and develop skills for their future. It’s how we do this that seems to differ and is open to interpretation, especially if we then add to this the absolute need for us to deliver quality inclusion.
Definition of inclusion
“The action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure” to be included and not excluded, a notion that is a basic human right, to belong, to feel that an environment is there for me and where individuals feel part of a group. My question then is whether or not our current application of interventions, away from the group, out of the room for children with diverse needs, is inclusion and is delivering inclusive practice?
Can we effectively combine the two ensuring all of the above for all of our children?
As well as being an early years educator through and through, I’m also a parent of two neurodivergent children, two different hidden disabilities that impact their learning and development and can hinder their ability to fully participate in today’s overwhelming sensory, unpredictable society. Do they feel included? – not always. Do they feel that everything is possible for them? – not always. Why not and why shouldn’t they?
Get to know me
‘Nothing is impossible, the word itself says I’m possible’ Audrey Hepburn
For all children to see that the impossible is possible, they need to feel trusted, emotionally secure, that their voice is heard, their views accepted, their responses to the environment and stimulus understood, their behaviours supported and know that their well-being is the priority of the adults around them. Only when we get to know them as individuals can we offer this deeper level of connectedness.
You may have cared for many 2-year-olds in your career, you may feel you have seen every behaviour, every interest, every developmental milestone and every additional need, you’re the room leader for this age group, you specialise in great care and early education, but, you haven’t met my son.
You haven’t cared for 2-year-old Stanley before. Stanley aged 2 years 9 months who comes with his own thoughts, ideas, concepts, enquiries, responses to stimulus, language, and a high level of inquisitiveness and curiosity. So please get to know him.
Get to know him from a deeper perspective, discover who he is, how he learns, and his level of interest and enquiry. Make it possible
- Observe his level of involvement
- Observe his level of engagement
- Observe his responses to the environment
- Be involved
- Plan with him
- Ask open-ended questions to discover more
- Be flexible enough in your delivery to respond to his changes in enquiry
- Understand the impact of effective sustained shared thinking
- Know how he plays and the level of his play
- Support and encourage in times of difficulty
- Build resilience in the tricky times
- Allow for him to have autonomy over his own learning
- Be attuned to his needs
Through your observations and inquiries, you discover Stanley doesn’t like getting messy, has limited engagement with his peers and doesn’t follow the expected pattern of play or social development and feel you need to raise concerns.
Is he going to be engaged in a non-interest activity outside of the room on his own with an adult? Will activities with flashcards and resources to ‘teach’ him to take turns to be attentive with random toys be effective? Is this enabling him to make something possible or enable him to feel included in the group?
I would suggest not, so why are these the go-to provision for children we consider to possibly be on a neurodivergent pathway? Why have we suddenly moved far away from all of the points above to set up these interventions that for many children mean exclusion from their peers, exclusion from the room and exclusion from the activities they were highly engaged in in the first place. We need to shift the thinking and the narrative, move away from seeing the child who is unable to learn the way we teach as their problem, it’s not, it’s our problem and one we need to alter.
Neurodivergent conditions are not problematic conditions that need fixing or curing, if children are continually being removed from play experiences and opportunities for ‘interventions’, then we continue to segregate, create a division and add to the separation of these children from their peers. This is not inclusion, nor is it creating and providing an enabling environment.
“Indeed according to adults in my study, inclusion derives from much more from an acceptance of diversity and recognition that all children, in some senses ‘have needs’, rather than targeting some with a raft of inclusion strategies which might serve to paradoxically to exclude them further” Dr Rebecca Wood, Inclusive Education for Autistic Children
We all engage and learn if we are interested. Only if you are interested in a conversation or topic, only if it’s a show you want to see or a tourist landmark that you’ve been wanting to visit, are we truly interested. We then become completely immersed, invested and engaged, it’s only then that we can absorb it all, find out all we need to know, be curious and learn.
For our children, all of our children, provide for them, enable them to be interested, invested and immersed in the environment.
Value them as individuals, and seek to communicate with them the way they communicate.
Adapt and respond to their needs, listen to their behaviours and respond with compassion, understanding and respect.
Alter the environment, routine, and expectations to allow them to be free to explore in their way and in their time.
Make the possible, possible.