GAINESVILLE, FL — In 2019, more than 716,000 preschool-age children were receiving special education services. Yet only 38 percent received these services at the early childhood program they attended.
For parents, opportunities to teach kids are everywhere.
“All young children benefit from the opportunity to learn important skills in the context of their everyday routines and activities,” explained Patricia Snyder, PhD, Distinguished Professor at University of Florida.
It is called embedded instruction and it can be especially beneficial for young children with or at risk for disabilities in classrooms or at home.
“Children who may be more marginalized because of differences in their learning abilities for them to have opportunities to be included, to be accessing the general preschool curriculum,” continued Snyder.
Separating children with learning disabilities from their typically developing peers can also have some negative consequences.
“We know that young children often remain in those more segregated and isolated settings for the remainder of their school career, which also could potentially impact their long-term success as being meaningful and participatory members of the community,” shared Snyder.
In a study of 106 preschool children with disabilities, teachers were taught through workshops, training tools and on-site coaching to properly incorporate embedded instruction techniques. The children gained more communication and language skills and had fewer problem behaviors than children whose teachers did not receive the training. In the classroom, teachers can incorporate learning into everyday routines, such as art time.
“What color is this paint? What color is that paint? Another time this might happen is during snack or mealtimes where there might be different colored bowls or different colored cups. And again, that provides a natural or logical opportunity for the child to talk about and name colors. Teachers who received the onsite coaching in their classroom continued to implement embedded instruction practices. And they were able to generalize their implementation of embedded instruction to new children in their classroom who enrolled in the following year,” said Snyder.
At home, parents can provide embedded learning opportunities in everyday tasks by comparing sizes of spoons while emptying the dishwasher, reading road signs during a drive, or even during breakfast.
“Looking at the cereal box and identifying what letters there might be on the cereal box. And although it seems very simple and straightforward, it actually turns out that it’s embedded instruction,” Snyder stated.
Even though this study focused primarily on how teachers can use embedded instruction, Snyder and her colleagues at the University of Florida are developing an extension of the intervention to focus on connections among school, home, and community. It is called Tools for Families.