Haring Center

9. Building Blocks Framework

As late as the 1990s, preschool special education classrooms in school districts across the country often kept children with disabilities in segregated classrooms, isolated from their peers and playmates. Children with disabilities, who are children first, were not provided the opportunity to learn through play and participation in meaningful, interesting activities that are part of a high quality classroom curriculum like their peers in early learning programs were able to do. Too often, the focus of instruction was on isolated skills that were not necessarily part of a sequence of developmentally important milestones.

Early learning specialists recognize that the more readily a child participates in engaging classroom activities, the more likely they are to learn from those activities. The need to identify strategies to promote the engagement and learning of children with special needs in regular preschool settings prompted a collaboration of Haring Center researchers Dr. Ilene Schwartz and Dr. Susan Sandall.

This innovative text stressed the need for a high-quality early childhood program as the foundation for the future of a child’s education.

The goal to write a blueprint for educators to use a system of individualized supports and strategies to allow children with special needs to participate in traditional early childhood classroom settings was ambitious to say the least. The result, however, would present a series of strategies to keep students with special needs challenged and supported during classroom activities and lessons in preschool classrooms.

In 2008, Ilene and Susan literally wrote the book on modifying traditional preschool curricula and environments to include children with special needs, titled Building Blocks for Teaching Preschoolers with Special Needs. Through its lessons, Building Blocks instructs educators to meet federal requirements for special education, and provides educators with practical, research-based strategies to promote progress in critical areas such as behavior, emergent literacy and peer relationships.

This innovative text stressed the need for a high-quality early childhood program as the foundation for the future of a child’s education. Building Blocks outlined a four-step system of inclusive preschool education. The most basic adjustments teachers could make included organization of their classrooms and tips to promote positive interactions with adults. If children need more individualized support to meet their learning goals, the book presents a system of curriculum modifications, embedded learning opportunities, and highly individualized child-focused instructional strategies.

Through Ilene’s and Susan’s work, any teacher has the tools to create an inclusive classroom that promotes participation and contribution for children of all abilities. Building Blocks is considered a seminal text for any aspiring or practicing special educator. It is used in developmental preschools, child care, early learning and pre-kindergarten, and Head Start programs throughout the country.