Questions and Answers

The Child Care plus+ program was based at the Rural Institute from 1987 to 2012. The Center supported and promoted inclusive early childhood environments nationally. Child Care plus+ was funded by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and several federal grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In 2021, the Rural Institute updated the Child Care Plus materials. One popular feature of the original Tip Sheets was the "A Child Care Provider's Question" section. We didn't want to lose the content, so we are including the original questions and answers below. Please click on a topic button below to view all questions and answers related to that topic.

QUESTION: Each year, we plan a hike on the mountain near our program. We have fun exploring the view of our community--finding road patterns, identifying buildings, and locating our school. This usually leads to activities afterwards as children explore the idea of building their own towns, etc. This year, one of the children in my group uses a walker and is unable to make the hike. I don't want to cancel the hike, and certainly don't want to exclude the child. How do I make this work for everyone?

ANSWER: You've already begun to find the answer when you ask, "How do I make this work for everyone?" Field trips are an extension of your program and you already recognize the importance of including each child. In addition, you display a positive, "can do" attitude about finding a way to make it work!

Start by exploring small adaptations for the traditional hike based on the child's strengths and needs. If this child can successfully make part of the hike, you might establish your picnic site at the base of the hill and allow each child to set his or her goal for hiking distance. Or, explore other ways for the child to make the climb, such as an all-terrain wheelchair. Your awareness of the child's social, emotional, physical, and cognitive strengths and needs will help you decide if these or other modifications would be appropriate.

You could also investigate alternative locations that allow everyone to fully participate. For example, you could plan a bus route to "tour" your community. Or, you might look for another hiking location. Many communities have created accessible trails, and there may be one that offers a similar vantage point as your traditional trail.

The spirit in which changes are made is just as critical as meeting children's individual needs. It is important to ensure that field trip traditions have grown with you in their ability to respond to the uniqueness of each group of children. This process can help you discover exciting opportunities for providing every child new learning experience, as well as leading you to explore new territory! In addition, you are modeling the spirit and practice of inclusion for your community.


QUESTION: I really like my child care program. I have been careful in what I choose for the program. Do I have to adapt? When do I adapt? And will I know what needs adapting?

ANSWER: Adaptations do not necessarily mean large changes in routines, play materials, or environment. Adaptations are made for children based on what each one needs in order to fully participate in the program.

You should also understand that child care providers make "adaptations" all the time! Giving a toddler a sippy-cup instead of a bottle is an adaptation, and providing a number of different sizes and kinds of paint brushes means that each child can find one for his or her needs.

So . . . WHEN do you adapt? When it is clear that the child will not be successful with what is currently available. For example, when a child with a visual impairment has difficulty finding the puzzles she likes in the stack of puzzles, you could put a Velcro dot on the edge of her favorites to make them easier to find by feeling the edges.

And HOW do you know WHAT adaptations to make? Parents and specialists working with the child can give you some hints that have been helpful for them. You can also use your own knowledge of what children like to play with and how they play to guide your observations of whether or not a child is successful in his or her play. The child who may never touch finger paint can be offered a number of adaptations that make finger-painting successful such as rubber gloves, a spoon, paint brushes, sponges, etc.

The important thing is to recognize that the adaptations you make will benefit all the children in your program.


QUESTION: I want to teach the children in my program to share. It's an important social skill and one that all children need to learn. What kinds of toys are best to use?

ANSWER: The surprising answer lies in how many toys are available, more than in what kind. The best examples of spontaneous sharing among young children are seen when each child has access to one or two of the same toys or play materials. In these cases, there has often been an intentional effort by the child care program to follow a policy of "one for every child."

Picture a group of three children playing with markers. If there are three markers, each child will be part of the activity. You may even see them "trade" or "share" markers. If, however, there are only two markers, someone will feel left out. One way to understand why the "one for every child" idea works is to ask yourself this question: How motivated would I be to give up my marker when it means that I do not get to play anymore?

Obviously, you may not be able to have a tricycle, wagon, and swing for each child; there will naturally be times when children have to "wait their turn". However, caregivers can try to acquire materials with "one for every child" as a guide whenever possible.


QUESTION: I really believe I would welcome any child into my program, but I hear alarming stories from other child care providers. Is a positive attitude really enough?

ANSWER: While there is sometimes a big gap between attitude and ability, a positive attitude can have an incredible effect on your approach to the challenges that will most surely arise for you as a child care provider. A positive attitude is often described as a "can do" or a "why not" perspective. This position creates an open door for new ideas, new information, and new skills.

Attitudes serve as filters for everything that is said about a child. For instance, let's say a child comes to your program who, you are told, has been asked to leave several other early childhood settings. While this information may make you anxious, a positive attitude will make it more likely that you will look at a number of factors, explore many solutions, and use every skill at your disposal to work with the family to make your program a good placement for this child. Contrast this response with that of the individual who tells their director they are not prepared to deal with any of "those" kids.

Your attitude filter impacts your choices for professional development, your ability to develop skills, and your willingness to make changes in your program. For example, your positive attitude makes it more likely that you would be willing to learn how to perform an unfamiliar medical procedure or acquire sign language skills. Contrast this with the teacher who believes that because they have always done things a certain way, they should not have to make a change for just one child!

The simple truth is that inclusion is more likely to work when you believe it can. Attitudes affect our acquisition of knowledge as well as our ability to use that knowledge effectively. Your attitude towards problems and challenges directly affects not only your response to them, but the probability of a successful outcome for everyone involved, including you. Is a positive attitude enough, probably not, but it is almost enough.


QUESTION: I have a child with disabilities in my program, but the parents said they will take care of all the stuff. What should I do now?

ANSWER: For a variety of reasons, a few parents may be reluctant to allow the release of any records or information to you. They may be unsure about how the information will be used or fear that if you know everything about their child's disability, you may treat the child differently. As you build a partnership with the family, it is likely they will eventually recognize your need for information about their child. If not, this is a decision you must respect and accept without judgment.

Do not be alarmed if a parent refuses to provide consent for release of confidential information. Remember that this is their right, and in fact, many parents feel obligated to protect their child's records. Without the parent's written permission, you cannot obtain the child's records, but you can still gather general information from the library or agencies familiar with young children with disabilities. Although not specific to the child, this kind of information can help you learn more about the care a child needs while in your program and formulate specific questions to ask the family from time to time.

Since the child's parents are your bridge to the team, offer information about your program (handbook, newsletters, schedule), collect samples of the child's work, and provide written notes from your observations for them to share with team members. You can invite team members to visit your program, to observe, and play with the child during learning activities and routines. This opens the door for collaboration and may eventually result in parents inviting you to become more actively involved on the team.


QUESTION: I have several quiet children in my group. How do I encourage their communication?

ANSWER: When a child initiates communication with you (a baby cries, a toddler grabs your hand, or a child asks a question), your response helps children learn about communication. They learn that:

  • Their communication is important
  • You want to listen to them
  • Communication is often a circular process (you communicate, I respond with a communication, you respond back, etc.)

It makes sense to respond when someone talks to you, but sometimes attempts to communicate can be subtle.

For example, Diana was seated next to the teacher during an art activity. She was pasting colored paper to a paper plate and ran out of paper. She asked for more, gesturing with both hands, but got no response from the teacher. Several minutes later, she pointed to the container of paper, but no one noticed. Moments later, she pounded on the table and was told to "stop pounding or she would have to leave the table."

Having had no positive response to her many requests, Diana left the art table. This example illustrates the effect of failing to respond to a child's initiation. Had Diana had more communication skills, perhaps she could have used words to ask for paper. When she used the communication skills she had and they did not work, so she gave up.

In groups of young children, it may be difficult to respond to each child's request or attempt to communicate. Still, it is important for every child to feel that their contribution is welcomed and encouraged. Acknowledge each child regularly, including the child who may be quieter or less competent. Watch for a comment or a gesture from children who are less able to contribute during the group activity. Be careful that you are not so "busy" in group situations that you miss these wonderful opportunities to model and encourage good communication skills with each child.


QUESTION: I am trying to include a two-year-old girl with disabilities in my program, but I feel like I'm neglecting some of my other responsibilities. I really want to make this work, but I don't want to lose the other aspects of my program I have worked so hard to develop.

ANSWER: Your concern is not all that uncommon. When early childhood professionals enroll a child whose needs are unfamiliar and new, they often try so hard to make it work that they forget the advantages of individualizing within the context of the experiences their program already offers.

A few years ago, another provider had this same question about including a young girl named Rachel. When the provider shared her concerns with her co-worker in the program, they had an eye-opening discussion that changed the provider's perspective and helped her to find the balance she was looking for. The co-worker asked her, "Do you really think it's possible to meet any child's needs all of the time?"

Thinking of this question helped the provider keep things in perspective. She began to realize that she could not meet every child's needs all of the time, but she could meet the needs of each child most of the time. She remarked, "Sometimes children have to wait their turn, and Rachel is learning to wait, too."

Inclusion involves finding ways to include each child in typical activities and routines. Inclusion is grounded in quality early childhood practice which occasionally may take extra effort, extra resources, and support for a particular child. It is almost always doable within the context of typical early childhood routines and activities.

When it seems like it is not, it is wise to look first at your own expectations of yourself in relationship to the child's strengths and needs. Then, take a look at any additional resources that might be needed to ensure that the quality early childhood practices your program represents doesn't get lost to any of the children.


QUESTION: Our program discourages children from bringing toys from home because toys were often lost and some children did not want to share their toys. Lately children are bringing toys anyway and having tantrums when we ask them to put them away. One parent asked if her child could bring a favorite toy to school due to special circumstances. Should we bend the rule?

ANSWER: The rule you describe is common in early childhood settings for good reasons. It is understandable that you would want to protect children's toys from getting lost or broken while at school, and it is certainly frustrating when children bring a fun toy but won't let anyone else play with it.

It may be helpful to think about program rules from a child's perspective. While we might think the "no home toys" rule makes getting along easier for children, bringing something from home can be a way of blending together different parts of a child's world. Some children bring a toy to show the other kids, almost like sharing with family members. A child who is attached to a particular toy is likely to be more comfortable in school if they are allowed to have it with them. A rule against bringing toys from home may interfere with a child's way of building the connection between home and school.

To specifically answer your question about bending the rules, the answer is absolutely not! Do not let yourself get in the position of bending rules. If you are inconsistent, no one will know for sure what the rule is. But, if a rule doesn't work, change the rule.

For example, you may want to explain that toys from home are welcome but that children are responsible for keeping track of what they bring. It will be important that each child have a cubby or box or some special place to "protect" the toy when it is not being played with. You may also want to make sure there is a private play area if the child wants to enjoy the toy alone. You can use these toys from home as a way to learn more about the child and the child's play preferences. If conflicts arise, it will be a perfect opportunity to teach and help children practice problem solving skills.


QUESTION: I don't have a degree in special education, so while I understand it is important to individualize--and I want to--I'm not sure how to design an activity to include a child with a disability.

ANSWER: You are not designing a different activity, you are simply making modifications that will allow each child to participate in a meaningful way. But there are some things that will help you decide what you can do to meet the needs of an individual child. First, ask people who know the child well to get an idea of what kinds of play experiences have been successful. This is especially useful if the child is new to your program.

Most importantly, take your cues from the child. Spend time observing the child's behavior to see what he or she enjoys, what kinds of skills are used easily, and what types of toys seem to be most interesting. If you observe the child busily involved in a play activity in the block area, for example, figure out what makes that activity so successful and try to recreate that strategy in a group activity. Or, if during mealtime you notice that the child loves to experience the squishy textures of food, try to embed the same sensory experience in a group activity. In most cases, children's behavior will give you the information you need in planning the activity, and by watching each child's response to what you have planned, you will know if something needs to change.

Never assume that a child cannot participate. Adopt a mindset that says every child can be involved and then find ways that the activity can be modified to reflect each child's developmental abilities and interests.

Be willing to engage in trial and error. You may not know what will engage a child, but you can try a few different ideas to see if any of them work.

Do not consider the activity a failure because one or more of the children do not participate. Just keep making minor changes in materials, physical layout, or access to play and watch what happens.


QUESTION: I've just enrolled a child with cerebral palsy into my program. The child has severe delays, limited motor skills, and seizures. I'm concerned about how to prepare the other children so they aren't alarmed by the child's behavior.

ANSWER: First, you do not need to prepare the children for the enrollment of a child with a disability by doing any more than you would for any other child who was entering your program. Young children will not understand what cerebral palsy is, and if you try to describe seizures, delayed motor skills, or different sounding speech, you may set up a situation where the children expect to see this child as different or unusual.

What you can do is prepare by learning as much as possible about the child's abilities and disabilities. For example, find out as much as you can about the seizures so that you know how often they occur, what they look like, and what you need to do when one occurs. Discuss with coworkers what will happen if the child has a seizure. If you are prepared and relaxed, the children are not likely to be afraid. They probably will, however, want to talk about it afterward, particularly if they have never seen a seizure before.

Be prepared for questions and do not be concerned if children experiment with different-sounding speech patterns, pretend that they cannot walk, begin to role play or pretend that a favorite doll is having a seizure. These behaviors are perfectly common ways for children to learn about disabilities, and if not discouraged, they will not last long.

Your job is to give children information they need, when they need it, in a way that is calm, honest, and straight forward.


QUESTION: Our program has a limited toy and material budget. If you had only $50 to spend, what toys / materials would you purchase?

ANSWER: Given $50 or $500, the first choice should probably be play materials and supplies, not toys. In fact, given $50, consider using the money to arrange the materials you have to get the most use out of them. You might look for fun containers to store your dress-up clothes, add a science element to your Lego collection by acquiring a scale, put up hooks so that children can get their own bibs for lunch, or create picture labels the children can understand.

The best answer to your question can be found by observing the children themselves. What addition would support the play behaviors you already see? What would help to develop play themes that reflect children's current interests? Remember that the imagination of a young child seldom requires fancy materials. Your budget will go far if you build it around no-cost or low-cost raw materials that are chosen and thoughtfully arranged.

Before you spend a penny, make a list of playthings that you, the children, and their families can gather for free. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Contact a quilting group for scraps of fabric
  • Ask an appliance dealer for large empty boxes
  • Save cardboard paper towel rolls
  • Ask each family to bring in one article of clothing for your dress-up clothes
  • See if a doctor's office will donate unused, disposable medical supplies such as gowns, caps, gloves, etc.
  • Go to a fast food restaurant and ask for unused food containers, napkins, hats, and other supplies

QUESTION: One of the children in my program, Andy, has a severe developmental delay. He has limited movement, doesn't use words, and seldom plays with toys, much less other children. Is social interaction something I should work on with Andy?

ANSWER: Definitely! Children interact with adults, toys, and their peers even when they have significant developmental delays or disabilities. The way interaction occurs may be different from what is thought of as typical, but social interaction is important for every child. Here are ways you might promote social interaction for Andy:

  • Be sure that he has an opportunity to play in each of the activities you provide or areas you arrange. Andy's play may not be the same as another child with different abilities, but it is important for him and for the other children to spend time together in the same play areas playing with similar materials. In the block area, for example, Andy may not build towers or houses, but he might enjoy knocking down towers or looking at blocks arranged in interesting patterns.
  • During art activities, arrange the art supplies on Andy's wheelchair tray. When children need more paint or another pair of scissors, they can go over to his tray, tell Andy what they need, and pick it out for themselves. This allows Andy to be involved and gives children many opportunities to talk to and interact with him. (Don't forget that Andy needs a turn to create his own art work, too.)
  • During circle time, you may need to be creative in looking for ways that Andy can interact with his peers. He may need an adapted chair or other positioning device so that he can sit at the same level with the other children. You or one of the other children may want to help Andy make the motions to familiar songs and nursery rhymes.

The important thing is to separate social interaction from a child's ability level it really is possible to interact with people and materials at any developmental level. Your job is to look for and create opportunities that make it easier for children with disabilities to interact with their peers and truly feel a part of the group.


QUESTION: The Speech Therapist and mom are using sign to communicate with Jeffrey. They have asked me to help him by practicing the signs during our routines and activities. How can I incorporate his language into my program?

ANSWER: First, you get a pat on the back for your attempt to incorporate sign into your program, rather than teach sign to the children. Children learn sign language in mostly the same way as they learn spoken language, by imitation and motivation.

One way of incorporating sign in your program is to use it for key words with all the kids during the daily activities and routines. For example, choose words like more, shoe, rain (or the words Jeffrey is learning), and pair the sign with the word every time you use it. Start with one sign, such as more. Post a picture of the sign to remind yourself, staff, older children, and parents. Look for (and collect) ways to use the sign/word throughout your typical activities.

Now pair the sign with the word "more" every time you say it: more milk, more blocks, more helpers, one more chair. Encourage the children to use the sign when they make requests for more. Sing "The More We Get Together" at circle time. I'm sure you are getting the idea, but just in case, let's try it with apple. Again, post the sign for apple, read Ten Apples Up on Top (Dr. Seuss), cut apple slices as a group activity and serve for snack, place plastic/wooden apples in the housekeeping corner, get out the puzzle of fruits, etc.

Doing these things keeps a child's method of communication from being treated as unusual or different. What a wonderful skill: learning a language children can use all their lives!


QUESTION: What I am supposed to do if I stop using timers to get children to move from their favorite learning center to another center? They'll never move, and that will keep other children from having their turn.

ANSWER: When children are satisfied and unworried about being able to play at their own pace, most will voluntarily move on to other activities. They relax because they know for sure that they will have regular opportunities to return if they want. If you throw away the bells and timers (or lights flashing or whatever you use to tell children to stop what they are doing and move on), you would change the nature of your program in just two weeks.

When children have frequent and uninterrupted chances to play, they stop hoarding play materials and play spaces. They eventually become eager to share space and materials with others because they are no longer concerned about getting their turn. They are less anxious because they have been provided with many turns, and they know for sure there will be more in the future.

The depth and complexity of play increases as children are given enough time and materials to expand their play themes or work on child-initiated projects. They build positive relationships with other children because competition for space and play materials has been reduced or eliminated.

Shifting to this approach takes initial commitment, flexibility in scheduling, and enough time for you and the children to get used to this change. The benefits of this approach are huge, especially when it includes children's being able to "save" a play theme or block building for later. Teachers and caregivers who switch from timed play to extended play never seem to want to return to using a timer again!


QUESTION: We are developing a new parent handbook, and we want it to reflect our philosophy of inclusion. Should we say that we are "an inclusive program" or that we "include children with disabilities"?

ANSWER: Because you cannot actually deny services to a child just because he or she has a disability, using either one of those choices probably does not add much to your parent handbook or brochure. It would be more helpful to parents who are interested in your program if you made sure that the handbook used inclusive language and pictures throughout. A parent wants to know how you will include their child in your program, and that's what you need to describe / show.

They also want to know if you have any special qualities, experiences, or training that would help prepare you to meet the needs of their child. You might, for example, describe the kinds of activities the children do and explain that each of these "can be adapted to match the interest and abilities of each child." If you include a biographical sketch of you and/or other staff members, include specialized training you have received or perhaps a description that you "value incorporating cultural and developmental diversity and work hard to make sure that every child's interests are represented in your program."

The idea is to describe, for all families, the different ways in which you include every child in each part of your routine. There is no better way to describe inclusion! You might also be surprised to find that parents of children who do not have disabilities are just as interested in finding out that you will meet their children's individual needs. If your parent handbook uses inclusive language throughout, every family will feel that your program is a special place for their child.


QUESTION: I'm worried that adapting our playground will be expensive. Any ideas about how to pay for it?

ANSWER: It's true that play surfaces and new equipment can be expensive, however, some changes cost very little. To make your playground more accessible, focus energy on ways to improve play opportunities. It's okay to imagine a fabulous play yard, but before you begin major fundraising efforts, you'll want to be clear about what is needed and who will benefit.

Carefully look at the equipment, physical design, and play experiences available. What is needed to make this space more playable? Once you have identified a list of changes that you want to make, you are in an excellent position to ask for help.

Start by approaching parents and other professionals who work with children in your program. The following pointers may help:

  • Talk specifics. Instead of saying, "will you help us adapt our playground," try something more specific like, "Joey can't sit in the swing seats we have now, but I think he would really like to swing. Do you have any ideas?"
  • Make sure there is a clear benefit. Almost any changes will make your play yard look more appealing, but the true benefit should be stated in terms of the children. Not everyone will clearly understand why you need to have a special handle on a shovel. Part of getting people interested in helping you is getting them to understand what these changes mean to a particular child.
  • Do a little research. If you can find a picture, materials, or an example of the exact piece of equipment you want, you stand a better chance of getting the help you need.
  • Remember that you do not always need money; sometimes you need a few hours of labor or the parts and pieces to make the adaptation. Here is where your colleagues can help. Talk to speech therapists, psychologists, motor therapists, and special educators; they have access to catalogs and resources you might need.

Fundraising is only one of many options. More than money, you need a few good ideas and people's energy and support to turn your outdoor play space into a more playful area for all children.


QUESTION: I used to teach the kids as a group doing different crafts, finger plays, and projects. This year I made changes in my preschool schedule and play environment to promote opportunities for kids to have more "free time". The kids seem busy and productive during our longer play time, but I don't feel like I'm teaching anymore. What am I supposed to do with my time while they play?

ANSWER: By extending your child-directed play time and working to use your environment to invite children need to play, you have taken an incredible step toward creating a more developmentally appropriate experience for children in your program. Feeling uncomfortable with these changes is a natural part of your learning journey.

You seem to be struggling with becoming a facilitator during play time-a role that can appear to clash with past expectations that "good" teachers stand in front of the children and tell them what they need to know and do. As facilitator, you work as a partner with the children during play time. You assess their learning and the effectiveness of the play environment, provide support, and make changes in the environment when necessary.

Once you understand your role, it can become just as rewarding as more direct teaching methods. Here is a quick list of what a facilitator does:

  • Observes how children interact with toys and each other
  • Keeps notes about what is seen
  • Asks questions about children's play to guide and expand their thinking
  • Provides props based on children's ideas and needs
  • Introduces new concepts or vocabulary relevant to the play
  • Plays briefly to model a novel use for a materials
  • Assumes a temporary role in small group play to show a child how to join a group
  • Documents children's social, emotional, physical and cognitive growth
  • Asks if the play environment is meeting the needs of all children
  • Uses all of the information gathered to frequently adapt and expand the play environment

Your goal is to provide each child a well-designed environment that allows them to be self-directed in meaningful play. Allow yourself time to explore and change as you continue the process of lifelong learning.


QUESTION: How do you include families who don't want to be included? We have families who never come to parent meetings or respond to notes we send home.

ANSWER: Every family operates differently, and it is unfair to assume that parents are not interested in their child or in your program because they do not participate in traditional parent activities. Building partnerships with parents does not just mean encouraging them to attend special events or be physically present in the program.

Your task is to develop a personalized partnership with each family that allows you and the parents to work together to create a nurturing environment for the child. Parents will differ in how actively they are involved in this partnership. It may help to think of involvement on a continuum from high participation to little participation. For example, involvement might mean joining you and the kids for lunch when you invite them. It could mean taking a quick look at pictures you posted of the children making snack this morning. Or, it could simply mean reading the monthly newsletter.

It is natural to be excited about the parent who comes in every Tuesday to help out with play activities. It is even easier to appreciate the parents who support the program and repeatedly tell you how valuable you are to them. But it is also important to recognize the individual needs of families and allow each family a different response to being a partner in your program.

Offer a variety of opportunities, keep inviting parents to take part, and do not be too disappointed if they choose not to participate every time. Work with each family to discover what they need from you and what they are willing (and able) to contribute to your program.


QUESTION: What should I do when a parent wants me to use teaching or guidance strategies that do not fit with accepted early childhood practices?

ANSWER: It is important to remember that a partnership means shared decision-making. When parents and providers disagree, respectful communication is the key to developing a shared decision and plan. You can start by exploring the issue with the parent and find out why it is important to the family and to share the reasons for your current practices. Understanding each other's perspective is essential to the shared decision-making process. Sometimes, parents and providers are really promoting the same goal and the process ends with a meaningful conversation. Other times, there are deeper concerns and you may need to develop a plan together for exploring the concern. Occasionally, you might see the appropriateness of a parent goal and decide to adapt your program accordingly (and vice-versa)!

When there really is a difference in beliefs--such as when the family values completing a task over allowing the child choices, you can use the following process. First, seek a compromise that allows you to embed some of the parent's goal into your daily routine without violating your philosophy, such as implementing a planning process with the children at play time so they can practice making choices and then encourage following through.

Second, if a compromise is not achievable, you can agree to disagree. This is particularly useful when different approaches will not hinder a child's success at home or in the program, such as allowing the child to choose among play areas in your program and work on task completion skills at home.

Finally, you and the parent(s) can examine the fit between what the child needs and the child care environment by talking openly about similarities and differences in beliefs. Often you will find that there is enough in common to support the child's best interests. Sometimes you find that your differing opinions are getting in the way and/or the fit is not working for the child. When this is agreed upon, your best option is to work with parents to find a program that better matches their needs. This outcome is not about who is "right" or "wrong," rather it is an opportunity to recognize and accept that there are a wide range of family styles and practices and diversity in child care programs.


QUESTION: I'm confused. I've always thought that one of the best ways to get kids to talk is to ask them lots of questions.

ANSWER: While asking a question usually produces a verbal response, some children may feel pressured by the necessity to respond and may turn away or just not answer. Many children who do respond use short and simplistic answers.

In some cases, interactions based on questions do not result in meaningful conversation. The questioner controls the interaction and does most of the talking.

When your goal is to get children to communicate and engage in conversation (as opposed to just talk), you want to use methods that start--and maintain--meaningful exchanges. Using descriptive statements takes away the pressure of responding and at the same time, provides a language model centered on matters relevant to the child. When children choose to respond, they may elaborate in delightful ways that provide the framework for your next statement.

In most cases, interactions based on relevant statements and observations result in conversation where there is a balance of talking. These conversations can go on and on, until one or the other person is done. When you use mostly questions to communicate with young children, YOU direct the conversation and, in many ways, control the response. When you use descriptive statements to communicate, it is likely that children will use more language, add details, and direct the conversation to address their own interests.


QUESTION: I care a lot about the children in my program. Why does it really matter what language I use if my tone and my intent are positive?

ANSWER: Change is easier when you understand the reasons for adopting recommended practices. Your question provides an opportunity for deeper exploration of the language of inclusion. Together, let's look at four primary reasons of using appropriate words and child-first language.

  1. Adults with disabilities have identified and actively promoted language they consider respectful. They have united with a common voice to declare "not about us, without us." Even federal legislation about individuals with disabilities has been revised to read disabilities instead of handicaps and individuals with disabilities instead of disabled individuals because individuals with disabilities and their family members collectively advocated for this change.
  2. Other staff, parents, specialists and therapists hear how we talk about children. They may or may not know us well enough to recognize our positive intentions. Using appropriate language will ensure that you will not be misunderstood / use offensive language.
  3. You are modeling lifelong practices for the children. How do you want them to see one another--as labels and deficits or as unique human beings who are more alike than different? How do you want them to feel about one another? What words do you want them to use to describe each other now and in the future?
  4. When you are talking with parents, colleagues, or specialists who value appropriate language, you will not have to adjust in your thinking and speaking. You will have already mastered these skills and will be able to freely converse without feeling awkward or inadequate. You will present yourself as an educated professional who knows--and uses--the language of inclusion.