ECA Blog

Everyone Can Play Outside

Children, no matter the age, no matter the ability level, love to go outside.  For parents and early childhood educators, it is important to make the outdoor accessible to all.  To give some insight into this topic, here are some thoughts from a guest  blogger, Nicole Wysong.

Have a Great Week!




Every year, residents of Indiana endure our cold winters knowing that spring and summer are just around the corner. The weather is getting warmer right now in Indiana which means it is easier to spend more time outside.

I often found, as an early childhood educator, that when I told the children that it was time to go outside, they reacted happily and eagerly.  Outdoor time in warmer weather offers many opportunities for all children to explore nature whether or not a child has a special need, such as a hearing impairment, Autism, a physical disability or others. The benefits for children spending time outside are the same for everyone. However, children with special needs may take some specific caregiver planning to maximize the enjoyment and learning opportunities of the outdoors.

Of course, caregivers always need to keep in mind the safety needs of all of the children in their care as well.



One thing to consider when planning for outdoor play time is the mobility of the child. Is the outdoor environment set up to meet the needs of a child with a physical disability? The optimal goal for a child with any special need is creating an environment where the child can be as independent as possible and have opportunities for successful completion of activities. We need to consider the barriers that might hinder a child from being independent.

An example of a barrier for a child with a physical disability would be a cluttered play area with too many toys and obstacles to move around. Another example would be for a child who wants to play in the sand box but cannot get into the sandbox by himself. Our planning as caregivers should include planning for ways to reduce barriers of participation for any child.

There are some resources available that caregivers can use that specifically detail adaptations and accommodations for specific types of special needs. One resource is the book, “The Inclusive Early Childhood Classroom,” by Patti Gould and Joyce Sullivan (available for loan at the Early Childhood Alliance library). Another good resource comes from an article titled, “Including Everyone in Outdoor Play,” by Linda Flynn and Judith Kieff from the May 2002 publication of Young Children.



Here is a specific list of recommendations to consider when planning for the outdoor environment –

  1. At least two pieces of equipment are suited to the children’s sizes and ability levels.
  2. Appropriate modifications have been made to equipment and materials to increase the playability for children.
  3. Children can get to and play in this area with limited, if any, adult assistance.
  4. Caregivers assist children to engage in outdoor play as needed.
  5. Children can access play structures such as swings, slides and climbers.
  6. There are opportunities for peer partnering or the buddy system as needed.
  7. Children are engaged with other children and materials.
  8. There are options for play during outdoor play other than gross motor activities such as books or games.

This list comes from the ‘Inclusive Environment Tool’ written for the use of the Inclusion Specialists in Indiana.



References for the Inclusive Environment Tool

  • Dixon, Susan (C.C.C.) & Frazeur-Cross, Alice (Ed.D.). 2004.  Adapting Curriculum & Instruction in Inclusive Early Childhood Settings (Revised edition). Bloomington, Indiana:  Early Childhood Center, Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, Indiana University.
  • Hope-Irwin, Sharon.  (2005).  Specialink Child Care Inclusion Practices Profile and Principles Scale.  Canada:  The National Centre for Child Care Inclusion.
  • Mulligan, Sarah A. (M.Ed.), Morris, Sandra L. (B.A.), Miller Green, Kathleen, (M.A.) & Harper-Whalen, Susan (Ed.M.).  (1999).  Child Care plus+  Curriculum on Inclusion.  Missoula, Montana:  The Center on Inclusion in Early Childhood, The University of Montana Rural Institute.
  • Child Care Center and Home Regulations, The Bureau of Child Care, Family and Social Services Administration, State of Indiana.
  • Paths to QUALITY Level Indicators, The Bureau of Child Care, Family and Social Services Administration, State of Indiana.



Nicole Wysong is the Inclusion Specialist at Early Childhood Alliance. Through The Indiana Partnership for Inclusive Child Care (IPICC) project, Nicole impacts families of children with special needs and their child care providers. IPICC focuses on:

  • Offering on-site technical assistance.
  • Providing training opportunities.
  • Assisting child care providers to meet criteria in Paths to QUALITY.
  • Increasing awareness of and providing resources for the unique needs of all children.

Contact Nicole at or 800-423-1498.



Including Children with Special Needs – Are You and Your Early Childhood Program Ready? From NAEYC

Inclusion Benefits All

A child with a disability is an individual just like anyone else.  While the disability is an integral part of who he is, it alone does not define him. Don’t make him into a victim. Treat him as an individual.

Inclusion means that the care and education of all children, with and without disabilities, takes place in everyday routines, activities, and places. Specialized services are embedded within the routines of those settings. Children are not only present, but participate as active social members of their peer groups and are seen as valuable members of their families and communities.

An inclusive attitude accepts that all children with and without disabilities should be respected and supported to feel capable and safe, and can experience the benefits of living and growing together.  By creating an atmosphere in which children are better able to accept and understand differences among themselves, children begin to realize and accept that some people need to use wheelchairs, some use hearing aids, and some use their arms and legs in different ways.

Inclusion Benefits Children

  • Children develop friendships and learn how to play and interact with one another.
  • Children develop a more positive image of themselves and a healthy attitude about the uniqueness of others.
  • Children are provided with models of people who achieve, despite challenges.
  • All children have opportunities to learn new skills by observing and imitating other children.
  • Children are encouraged to be resourceful, creative, and cooperative.
  • Children are more sensitive to the interests and needs of others.
  • Positive attitudes are developed that impact future relationships.

You can help your child by making your home an inclusive environment.  All children benefit when adults recognize the similarities in children, acknowledge the differences, and have curiosity about a child’s unique point of view.

Make these tips a part of your everyday routine:

  • Model Appropriate Behavior
  • Use Person First Language
  • Acknowledge Differences & Encourage Acceptance of Differences
  • State the Rules for Treating Others Respectfully
  • Educate and Allow Children to Explore through Play – Read stories and Provide Toys that Reflect Diversity
  • Respond Honestly, Simply and Clearly to Children’s Questions about Disabilities

The Indiana Partnership for Inclusive Child Care (IPICC) serves to educate, support and empower communities, families and child care providers to increase the availability of and access to developmentally appropriate, healthy and safe child care for all children. The primary focus of the project is to provide quality child care environments and parental support for families of children with special needs.

For more information on IPICC, contact our Inclusion Specialist.

Have a Great Week!


An Investment in Kids – and Our Future!

From Our Executive Director


ECA helps to start children on path to education success

Child care. Learning center. Preschool. Are they the same? High-quality programs for young children encompass all these things: care, learning and school preparation.

Early Childhood Alliance’s two learning centers in Fort Wayne include the educational component of preschool while providing the extended hours of child care. In fact, learning begins at birth, which means infants as well as preschoolers in a quality program are developing skills that help prepare them for kindergarten and beyond from the very beginning.

That’s good news for parents who wonder whether they need to move their children from one program to another for the education aspect. The answer is no – early learning is built in to high-quality programs.

How can parents know whether a program provides quality care and education? Paths to Quality is Indiana’s quality rating and improvement system, developed right here in Allen County. It rates child care programs on four levels based on a program’s quality, from the basic health and safety requirements of Level 1 to the planned curriculum and national accreditation of Level 4. Enrollment in Paths to Quality is voluntary, so programs that choose not to enroll only need to meet minimum state standards to operate. ECA’s Centers are Level 4, meaning they have achieved the highest level of standards in the industry, including learning activities, advanced staff credentials, a planned curriculum and national accreditation.

What does quality care and education cost? According to the 2014 Cost of Child Care Report from Child Care Aware, the average annual cost for infant care in Indiana was $6,000 to $8,000 in child care centers or family child care homes; $5,000 to $6,500 for a 4-year-old.

As with any type of service, cost can increase with quality. But ECA, along with other area programs, offers various types of tuition assistance – a sliding fee scale, vouchers, scholarships – to help parents access quality, affordable care and education. And that is where community support comes in. Organizations and individuals help ECA raise the 40 percent of its operating expenses needed beyond grants, revenue and government-based income. Collaborations with United Ways, other partner agencies and non-profits, and individuals and businesses across ECA’s 10-county service area help ECA provide a variety of programs and services for families, early education providers and the community.

One example of collaboration addresses spaces for Fort Wayne’s Rescue Mission families in our Downtown Center, a collaboration established several years ago based on that organization’s request. ECA’s outreach is not limited to our own two Learning Centers, however. ECA is this region’s Child Care Resource and Referral agency, one of nine such agencies in the state. Through the agency, ECA provides free child care search assistance plus training and mentoring of other early education providers and programs. We also offer family support programs.

Along with the question of initial cost to families, we need to ask about the cost to children, families and the community if children don’t experience quality care and education during early childhood. Research shows that every $1 spent in early education saves taxpayers $7 to $10 in the areas of remediation, financial assistance and law enforcement. Can we afford not to invest in early care and education? Whatever we call it – child care, early learning or preschool – early childhood education is key to a child’s future and the future of communities throughout Indiana.

Madeleine Baker is executive director of the Early Childhood Alliance. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.  It was published as an editorial on January 4, 2015.

Block Play = Learning

Children can develop important math and science skills without a lot of expensive toys. Empty boxes and containers, pots and pans, and blocks can be easily counted, sorted, stacked and nested. And learning math concepts does not begin in kindergarten; it starts as early as infancy as babies distinguish the differences in quantity and toddlers solve non-verbal calculation.

Although blocks aren’t the only way to develop math and science skills, they do offer a fun way for children to learn math concepts. In addition to the basic concepts of sequencing, classifying, patterning, and counting are working with height, width and area. Children can also learn about estimating, predicting and comparing, plus more advanced exploration of gravity, balance, and cause and effect – all important concepts in science.

Children experiment and problem solve through building. Can a small block hold a large block? How many blocks can be stacked without falling? Visual skills increase as children use structure appearance to make decisions and figure out relationships between objects and space. The brain’s motor pathways develop through this repetitive motion of stacking, which also fine-tunes children’s motor skills.

There are even more benefits of block play. During play children use their imaginations to create structures and bring other toys into the mix. Block play can also help children develop social skills as they learn to work in a group, and practice conflict resolution through planning, communicating and building together.

A grasp of math concepts starts with simple activities at all ages and abilities. Allow babies to touch and move objects. Sing counting songs or sort blocks by shape and color. Help toddlers by counting when they touch objects, tracing around objects of different sizes and shapes, and providing a variety of boxes for building. For preschoolers, you can explore more advanced activities, such as measuring in the kitchen or creating patterns with beads, colored macaroni or cereal.

Article Extension from Lisa

A good resource on the Importance of Block Play through Journey Into Education .  This page gives links to four pdf files with wonderful information.

  • Block Play – What We Are Learning.  This document covers all of the important concepts that can be reinforced through block play and gives examples of academic skills that children explore, practice, experiment and refine during opportunities with free exploration block play.  These skills include math, science, social, cognitive and language skills.
  • Block Play – Adding Accessories to Construction.   This document gives many good ideas of props and additional materials that can be added to enhance the block play area.
  • Open Ended Questions.  This document gives examples of open questions to use with children during block play.
  • Stages of Block Play.   This takes you through the stages of child development and block play.