Universal design in preschool curriculum aims to help more children progress

Universal design in preschool curriculum aims to help more children progress

Almost one million preschoolers in the United States receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), a law to ensure that children with disabilities participate and progress in the same general curriculum taught to children without disabilities. But achieving the ideal hasn’t been easy. 

According to Eva Horn, professor of special education at the University of Kansas, preschools often lack a system for modifying their curriculum for children with disabilities. But a new three-year $1.5 million grant to Horn and colleagues seeks to remedy that void.

Funded by the Institute of Education Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), the project will develop, refine and test a comprehensive curriculum framework so children with or at significant risk for disabilities can participate and make meaningful progress in preschool.

“Historically in early childhood education, our main concern has been to make preschool fun and engaging for kids,” Horn said. “We haven’t thought about what things we want preschoolers to learn by the end of the year. But what if we can achieve happiness and joy at the same time we think about where we want to take them?”

Horn and colleagues at KU, Indiana University and the University of Maryland will use the Children’s School Success Curriculum Model and field test a version with four- year-olds using universal design for learning (UDL) modi cations. UDL calls for multiple methods to help students learn, express what they’ve learned and stay motivated.

“We’ll ensure that the curriculum meets UDL principles so that all children show progress,” Horn said. “We’ll also develop procedures so teachers can individualize the curriculum and meet the learning needs of all children, with a special focus on those with disabilities.”

The goal is not to bring the children with disabilities up to the same levels as children without disabilities but to ensure that they make significant progress compared to where they started, Horn explained. “Our research has shown that children who benefit the most from a high-quality curriculum are children who are the most in need— that children who are at risk actually gain the most.”