The role of specialist equipment loans to support children with additional needs
In Victoria, early childhood education and care (ECEC) providers can access free equipment loans to support the inclusion of children with additional needs in their programs. In this piece, adapted from an article originally published in the Victorian Inclusion Agency publication Embrace, representatives from Gowrie Victoria (Broadmeadows Valley) share information about how they have incorporated specialist equipment to support children, and what role this has played in the service being the second in Victoria to be awarded as ‘Excellent’ under the revised National Quality Standard.
Gowrie Broadmeadows Valley offers both long day care and sessional kindergarten sessions across six multi-age classrooms. All children have access to a full indoor/outdoor program, which is co-located on a Department of Education hub site, shared between Broadmeadows Valley Primary School, Hume Valley Secondary School, Broadmeadows Special Development School, and Collingwood English Language School.
Specialist equipment was first incorporated into the service in 2016 when two siblings wanted to enrol in the service, one of whom was a wheelchair user. The family were understandably keen to ensure that both children had equal access to early learning.
“This idea aligned with our inclusive philosophy, and we began researching how we could make it happen,” a spokesperson from Gowrie Broadmeadows Valley said.
Through working with their Inclusion Professional and the family’s therapists, the service was able to experiment with different types of equipment to support both the child and the educators.
Educators at the service were initially a little nervous about incorporating the equipment, but also remained curious about what adjustments would need to be made to ensure the equipment was not a barrier to participation, for the child and for other children in the room.
After reviewing the equipment, and how the activities and experiences on offer in the room would integrate, educators leant into the relationships built with others, and “quickly gained confidence” in using the equipment.
Making a difference for families
The availability of specialist equipment, the spokesperson said, has allowed the service to support children and families who would not otherwise be able to engage with an early years education service.
One family, in particular, commented that having access to early learning, and being able to enrol their child into a service was an empowering step “that they never thought they would be able to take”.
Aside from providing access to valuable educational and social opportunities, having a place where children are able to access and use specialist equipment means families are able to engage in self-care and respite for themselves or return to work, Gowrie Broadmeadows Valley noted, adding: “The initial stress of enrolling in care and making the adjustment is far outweighed by the relief it offers to their everyday life.”
Making a difference for children
Having specialist equipment in the classroom allows children who need it and use it to engage in relationships and experiences independently of their parents and guardians, giving them the chance to establish a healthy identity beyond the family unit.
“Through the use of specialist equipment, we can offer a rich and challenging experience for all children. Children are encouraged and supported to take risks with their abilities, and to experiment and try new ways of doing and being, supported by educators who have a deep commitment to supporting exploration,” a representative said.
By making sure the equipment is in the classrooms at all times, even when the children using it aren’t present, all children in the program become familiar with the equipment being in the space, to discuss its importance and for educators to respond organically to children’s curiosity.
In addition, for the children who need it, the availability of the equipment says to the child “you are always welcome here. This space belongs to you”.
Making a difference for professionals
Working with an Inclusion Professional has been imperative to the success of inclusion at Gowrie Broadmeadows Valley, a spokesperson said, saying “from the moment we first thought of bringing in equipment, our Inclusion Professional has been a consistent source of support and guidance.”
From help with navigating the portal, teaching strategies, and classroom guidance, having access to a support professional who offered guidance “without judgement and with full understanding” has been crucial for success.
Lessons learnt, advice and ideas
When asked for some of the biggest lessons learned from the process of making literal and metaphorical space for inclusion, representatives wanted to share the message that including specialist equipment into the classroom isn’t hard – it might be daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the initial apprehensions.
Another key lesson was that, if given the opportunity, children without additional needs will rise to the occasion and demonstrate a great deal of respect for specialist equipment.
“We talk at length with all the children about the importance of each piece, which takes away all the mystery and increases knowledge and learning for all,” a spokesperson said.
In terms of advice, the recommendation was to work closely with your Inclusion Professional and hold open discussions with children and families about their needs.
Placing the child and family at the centre of decision making and working through any barriers is also an important element in ensuring that the Rights of the Child are upheld.
Services in Victoria can access a diverse range of equipment from the Victorian Inclusion Agency to further promote and support inclusive practice.