Inclusion Series: 8 Awesome Tips for Making Inclusion Meaningful (and Successful!) TIP #2 BUILDING AWARENESS

It took me an extra week (back to school is still kicking my butt!) but I'm back with Tip #2 for Meaningful Inclusion.

Lets face it.  Children are curious.  They are aware of differences in others and have a lot of questions.  I find that the best way to make inclusion meaningful for my students is to build awareness among their peers.  I don't find it necessary to put on a big song and dance with an assembly and all that jazz.  I find it is helpful to go into the classrooms where my students will be mainstreaming and take a chance to talk about the students who will do this.  I usually do this with a 4-step approach.  Here's what I do.

First, I make sure this is a time my students are NOT in the classroom.  It's just how I prefer to do it.  We're not putting anyone on the spot here.

You'd be surprised how many students have heard of Autism in a Kindergarten and First grade classroom!  While they may have heard of Autism, they don't always have a lot of information or understanding of what it is, but have no fear, I'm here to help you!  I like to open up and just ask if any of the students in the class have heard of Autism and let a couple students share who they may know with Autism.

After I let students share, I usually read a story.  These are a few of my favorites.

The last few years I have primarily read Looking After Louis.  I like this book in particular because it never calls out the student for having Autism, but rather highlights his differences and explains that fair is not the same for everyone (oh that lesson is difficult for many little buddies!)  Amazingly... Alpha! is also about accepting differences and not specific to disabilities.

It is important to share some information about the student who will be joining the class.  I have heard this saying many times and it is so true!  If you meet one person with Autism, you've met one person with Autism.  They're all so different.  What makes one tick can set another off.  What one likes, another couldn't care less about.  It's all about sharing what makes these students unique and how the other students can engage with your student.  I usually give some quick information like this:

Lets face it!  After all of that information those little Kinders and Firsties are going to have some questions.  They are going to want to clarify or share information (some of it may be off topic, that's what I always expect in K/1) and I always make sure I leave time to allow and answer questions I can for students.

I am a firm believer in the more that these students know, the better it is for all kids!  They will know how to interact with our students.  I have found them seeking out my students on the playground.  I have seen them help my students in the classroom.  Kids want to help and have everyone included, they just don't know how sometimes.  Giving students information and allowing open communication has worked in my classroom.  What has worked as you build awareness?

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