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Inclusion Column

Peers in Inclusive Environments

By Victoria Eugenia Torres Núñez

¨Let me help you¨
¨Teacher, I like playing together in recess. It is very fun!¨
¨I know that we all learn in different ways¨
¨Do you want to come to my house?¨
¨My new best friend!¨

It wasn’t always this way, but now these are phrases I often hear from my students.
I can recall the first week of school: questions, uneasy reactions, and struggles to adapt to certain behaviors while they first got to know each other. But there has been such a behavioral shift! Today, these students have learned to be caring, empathetic, accepting, and loving with friends who look, communicate, and act differently from what they'd known before in their short lives.

Research has shown that the practice of inclusion in children can result in significant opportunities for emotional, social, academic, linguistic and intellectual development (Avcıoğlu, 2008). Peers in inclusive settings have increased levels of security and awareness, social knowledge, self esteem, moral and ethical principles, including less prejudice towards people who behave, act or look different than they do (Staub and Peck, 2005).

Becoming more aware and responsive to others´ needs, and more accepting of diversity are also benefits that parents of typically-developing children enlisted. In addition, one of many studies of academic gains in inclusive settings concluded that peers in a classroom with students with a wide range of needs made significant gains in school subjects, such as math and reading, when compared to regular classrooms (Cole, Majd and Waldron, 2001).

Situations in which peers might reject certain behaviors of children that think and act different may result, and considering that rejection damages the classmate´s self-esteem, parents and teachers can transform these encounters into opportunities to explain and introduce values that support understanding and solidarity. As a teacher it is easy to notice when parents help their children to become more aware and to cherish differences, to react patiently in unexpected situations, to speak kindly to and about others, and to help and advocate for their friends.
This can happen by:
● Highlighting others´ strengths
● Using appropriately inclusive vocabulary
● Encouraging interactions with all peers
● Being a role model of respect to other people
● Providing with examples, such as books or movies

It's important to consider how, as all humans, children form beliefs about differences and then generalize them to other contexts. The developing brain is incredibly powerful and has the capacity to modify, learn, and unlearn. When peers understand how to respond to differences, their behavior is driven by emotional factors that make them more responsive to the needs of others.

Although education evolved from exclusion to inclusion with the educational rights of minority groups, inclusion takes into account all differences among human beings. Consider Barbara Boroson’s (2017) perspective: ¨Every kid in every classroom is an inclusion kid. Every teacher in every classroom is an inclusion teacher¨.

It's about accepting that every student arrives with their own background and knowledge, form their own perspectives in accordance to their experiences and development, and all establish relationships at their own pace. We also must remember that in order to provide children with the necessary tools, inclusion starts with us.

Avcıoğlu, H. (2008). Etkinliklerle sosyal beceri eğitimi [Social skills training through activities] (3rd ed.).
Ankara, Turkey: Kök Yayıncılık.
Boroson, B (2017). Inclusive Education: Lessons from History. Educational Leadership.
Cole, C., Majd, M. and Waldron, N. (2001). The academic progress of students across inclusive and
traditional settings: A two year study. Bloomington. IN: Indiana Institute of Disability and Community.
Staub, D. (2005). Inclusion and the Other Kids: Here’s What Research Shows so Far About Inclusion’s
Effect on Nondisabled Students. Washington: NIUSI