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Universal Design for Learning is a new way of thinking about creating learning opportunities for all children. In this Blog article Caitlin Townsend from Jamberoo preschool shares the way in which the UDL principles are embedded in their practice.

While attending the Early Intervention in the 21st Century symposium hosted by Macquarie University in November 2015, Dr Tim Moore discussed Universal Design on the continuum of changes in ECI.

Dr Kathy Cologon in her paper titled Inclusion in education towards equality for students with disability (2013) states that “Universal Design for Learning (UDL) ensures that environments and experiences are inclusive of children and adults in all their diversity. This includes providing multiple ways of accessing information, approaching learning tasks and engaging and participating in learning. UDL ensures that all environments and experiences are ready for all children, rather than targeting learning experiences to a homogenised ‘middle ground’, which excludes most learners, including many children who experience disability”.

So what is Universal Design for Learning?

According to the National Center on Universal Design for Learning (2016), “UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials and assessments that work for everyone – not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customised and adjusted for individual needs.

CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology), 2011, identify 3 principles of UDL:

  1. Representation of content for students;
  2. Engagement for how students practice; and
  3. Expressions for how students show what they know.

 

How are UDL principles evident in the early childhood education and care sector?

Caitlin Townsend from Jamberoo Preschool shared with us the way in which the UDL principles are embedded in the practice at their service.

How are UDL principles evident in your centre?

At our preschool we aim to foster the intellectual, physical, social and emotional developmeP1050553snt of each child, and acknowledge the strengths and learning styles of the individual. We do this by planning and programing individual learning experiences based on observations made of the child during engagement in our learning environment.

As a team we have made lots of decisions that support and engage all children. These decisions include implementing strategies such as reducing wall clutter including presenting children’s artworks respectfully and having minimal wall displays which assists with focus and concentration.

How do you undertake planning to ensure that the needs of all children are met?

With the focus on individual development and growth and the understanding that every child; or person, is unique and important, our educators deliver learning material in a variety of teaching styles and differentiate learning experiences to ensure every child is provided with the opportunity to engage.

Our educators understand the value of research and so use current practices when designing the spaces both inside and out to maximise every child’s individual needs which consistently promotes self-initiated play and exploration.

Can you give me one example of how the environment has been modified or adapted to ensure engagement of all children?

We pride ourselves on our open planned learning environment. The open planned design allows accessibility for all personP1050075ss, regardless of their individual need. Our carefully planned layout consists of no fixed structures meaning the layout design can be tailored to every group of children.

We recently worked with the support of a physiotherapist and occupational therapist to research purpose built, height adjustable tables to increase participation for children with varying support needs including those developing core strength to assist them with sitting on a chair at a table.

Our biggest strength is how we naturally embed inclusion and how we do not draw attention to modifications being made to our environment ensuring all resources are used with every child during our every day routine.

 

How has the support from specialist services assisted with this?

The therapists were able to come to our service and use their knowledge and expertise to modify our learning environment.

The support froP1050048sm them was vital to the modifications of our service. With their assistance we were able to access inclusive resources that would not have been otherwise available to us.

Do you think UDL principles support belonging for all children attending?

The Early Years Learning Framework states that “belonging is central to being and becoming in that it shapes who children are and who they can become” (EYLF, p7).

It is evident that the UDL principles reflect the above statement in that they encourage educators to teach the child using a range of strategies tailored to the individual and their learning styles, interests and abilities, respecting who children are and fostering who they can become.

Connections made between the Early Years Learning Framework and UDL principles support my belief that the UDL principles do in fact support belonging for all children.

 

For more information about the 3 principles of UDL visit http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/whatisudl/3principles

A visual overview of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is available at the following link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOUdmzaZrc8

Ms Caitlin Townsend is an early childhood teacher at Jamberoo Preschool. She is currently completing a masters degree in inclusive education. It became obvious to Caitlin very early in her career that children with additional needs and their families faced many barriers in education, particularly in relation to inclusion in the learning environment. Her observations set her on a path to see what she could do to help break down the barriers. Caitlin’s focus is to provide quality education and care for all children through inclusive and innovative practices. She strongly believes the EYLF provides a positive foundation for inclusive practices particularly when educators, families and other professionals work in partnership to utilise the principles and achieve outcomes.

Catalina Voroneanu
Catalina Voroneanu
Inclusion Program Coordinator

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