EI Talk: A Blog for Early
Childhood Professionals

The Impact of COVID-19 School Closures on Children with Disabilities

Danielle Shapiro (College’20) April 06, 2020

When Georgetown University announced that all classes would move to remote, online methodologies on March 13, it felt as if the world was ending for most of us Hoyas. Being a second semester senior, these last two months of school were meant for us to make final memories with our friends before heading out into the “real world.” If you asked me about the situation two weeks ago, I would have said that seniors in college got the worst of the school closure scenario. Our graduation and celebrations were cancelled and our young adult days ended in a blink of an eye. However, as I reanalyze the quarantine these past two weeks, I realize how lucky I am to have had 16.75 years of education in the classroom. As a senior in college I am capable to log onto online lectures and teach myself concepts from a textbook. Even if this was not the case, losing my last two months of my education would not make a significant difference in my development or future success. This is not the case for elementary school students that are in the middle of their foundational years.

Public and private primary and secondary schools across the country have shut down and switched to remote learning due to the coronavirus outbreak. In California, schools are required to provide “high quality education opportunities” but only “to the extent feasible” (Harrington, 2020). Although teachers are connecting with their students online and sending families learning packets, this does not equate to the same learning done in the classroom and parents are now feel the pressure to teach their children the curriculum. This is especially difficult for working parents or parents with multiple young children. How can a parent teach their first grade child how to read while also teach their third grader multiplication and work from home? A child in primary school requires hands-on teaching. A parent juggling five other responsibilities cannot provide their child with the adequate teaching that their child needs to succeed, resulting in their child falling behind in school.

Children with disabilities and their families face even greater pressures with the school closures. If schools stop providing educational services to the general student population, then they are not required to provide services to students with disabilities during that same period. If schools continue to provide educational opportunities to the general student population, the schools must ensure that students with disabilities also receive free appropriate public education (FAPE) to the greatest extent that it is possible (Question and Answers, 2020). However, it is nearly impossible to provide all students with disabilities the services they require from home. Special education instructors, behaviorists, and speech and language therapists, among others specialists, will not be able to work directly with students for the foreseeable future, which may interfere with the child’s progress or attainment of IEP outcomes. Additionally, schools have provided little or no instruction on how parents or teachers of students with disabilities should proceed with teaching (Levine, 2020).

During this period, no student will be receiving the education that they deserve, but school districts must still do their best to make learning also accessible to all students with disabilities. Because special education services are often put to the side, parents must hold their children’s schools and school districts accountable. Initially, parents should try to be patient with therapists and instructors because this new learning environment is an adjustment for everyone. After that, parents should ensure that the school provides them with a remote education plan, and they should track if their child is following the progression of their individualized education plan. If the child is regressing, parents will have a stronger case to receive more support when school reopens. Lastly, parents should also track the type and frequency of special-needs services that their child is receiving because the child will still be entitled to the services they missed once schools reopen (Levine, 2020).

Our current situation is extremely stressful and uncertain for everyone, but providing all children with the best education possible must be at the top of our priorities. It is essential that schools, teachers, and parents work together and communicate so that children are still given the opportunity to grow and learn during this time. The quality of a child’s education can impact the rest of their lives. We cannot let these school closures contribute to children’s failures.


Harrington, T. (2020, April 5). What California parents and students should know about the coronavirus: a quick guide. Retrieved from https://edsource.org/2020/coro...

Levine, H. (2020, March 31). Parents and Schools Are Struggling to Care for Kids With Special Needs. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/0...

Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019. (2020, March). Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/qa-covid-19-03-12-2020.pdf

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Innovation Showcase

Early Childhood Education Development and Learning:
8th Annual ED Games EXPO

Nadia Ferranti (NIAF Fulbright Scholar, 2020) February 25, 2020

The Administration on Children and Families, Office of Early Childhood Development sponsored the 2020 Showcase on Innovation in Early Childhood Development and Learning at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington DC. This is an annual meeting where classroom teachers, university professors, engineers, throughout the US and government officials from the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services convene to discuss innovation in early childhood education.

The showcase began with the welcome from Lynn Johnson from the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families and Aimee Viana, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, in the Department of Education. A panel discussion with ACF leadership followed, moderated by Melissa Brodowski, Deputy Director, Office of Early Childhood Development (ECD).

The panel shared information in three areas:

  • What is innovation?
  • How can we consider the role of innovation in our schools?
  • How can we promote innovation?

The common vision is that innovation is a key element of education in the 21st century, especially early childhood education. Innovation means keeping abreast of new developments, understanding social change, and responding quickly with meaningful, successful strategies at the right time in a way that all students can use. Innovation is not just about technology; it is creating real answers and evidenced-based solutions to real situations. It also means sharing professional development, increasing the quality of the interaction between teachers and students and support parents in involving them in their children’s school life. Prevention is also part of the Innovation; anticipating consequences and the array of scenarios that can emerge. In other words taking the long view. Facts and their consequences must be taken into account now with a longer temporal view. The speakers' “big ideas” were discussed interactively with the showcase participants, focusing on current and future innovations that can be put into practice in early childhood.

A variety of innovative educational resources were displayed and demonstrated that can be incorporated into early childhood programs. These innovative projects and tools are mainly digital kits and technological experiences designed to improve children’s learning in different fields. For example, “MathBIRX” is a digital platform that contains learning and challenging activities for children aged 4-8. There are different games linked to curriculum standards, allowing students to consider the same concepts in multiple ways. “MathBIRX” doesn't just help children learn math, it teaches them to think mathematically because it is based on a constructivist model of “learning by doing”.

Another great example of an innovative tool for kids and educators is called “Choosy Kids”. Choosy Kids promotes health and well-being habits as an integral component of school readiness. Choosy Kids includes numerous practice-based projects and interventions that increase the number of physical activities during daily school routines, improve the quality of structured movement experiences to enhance sensory processing and provide social interaction and cooperation. Furthermore, it utilizes music and songs purposely composed to develop and strengthen brain networks.

ED GAMES EXPO is offered annually to showcase government supported educational learning games and technologies. The EXPO is open to the public.

  • Click here for the "Guide to Educational Learning Games and Technologies," a document that provides details and video demonstrations on the technologies that were exhibited at the 2020 ED Games Expo
  • Click here for the "Activity Guide," a resource to engage and prepare children and students who attended the 2020 ED Games Expo

Nadia Ferranti (NIAF Fulbright Scholar, 2020)

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Universal Design for Learning: The Case for UDL Lesson on Knowledge Production around 9/11

Jinseul Jun (SFS ’20) February 04, 2020

What is Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

UDL is a framework that “guides the shift from designing learning environments and lessons with potential barriers to designing barrier-free, instructionally rich learning environments and lessons that provide access to all students.” Ronald Mace, an architect, wheelchair user, and the founder of the Center coined the phrase, Universal Design, for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. Mace and the Center for Universal Design developed seven elements of Universal Design. Universal Design is applied to the built environment.

According to Mace a universally designed environment is:

    1. Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
    2. Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
    3. Simple and Intuitive Use: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
    4. Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
    5. Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
    6. Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
    7. Size and Space for Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

    From: Rossetti, R. (2006). The Seven Principles of Universal Design. Action Magazine. Available at: https://www.udll.com/media-roo...

    Based on the elements of universal design, UDL is used in educational settings and is based on three main principles:

    • Engagement: multiple ways to prime the students to learn and sustain their interest.
    • Action and Expression: multiple ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned beyond a pencil-and-paper test.
    • Representation: multiple ways to offer information including text, audio, video and hands-on learning materials.

    Why use UDL as opposed to other teaching frameworks?

    Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is considered a framework as opposed to curriculum thus teachers are in full control of designing the learning environment and lessons accessible to all students. UDL is an invitation for educators to get “creative” with their teaching and learning approaches within existing systems. Inherent to designing lessons that are universally accessible is a commitment to flexibility. Flexibility encompasses flexible goals, methods, materials, assessments and evaluations. Educational lessons and materials designed with UDL assist all learners (disabled or not) to access learning activities, educational products, and environments. Creating learning that considers all learners requires us to consider all characteristics such as those related to gender, race and ethnicity, age, stature, disability, and learning styles. Children with and without disabilities benefit from applying the Universal Design for Learning in education curriculum as UDL seeks to meet the needs of all students.

    UDL is increasingly incorporated into the classroom. The application of UDL in a classroom entails ensuring a space that is welcoming, comfortable, accessible, and functional to all students. A universally designed classroom furniture, for example, should be adjustable in height and can be easily arranged to accommodate different learning styles, activities, and groupings. A simple yet important example would be the type of door handle. An accessible door should feature a level door handle, rather than a doorknob, as the latter requires tight grasping and turning to operate – which may be inaccessible to some students. In addition to such features, the following aspects should also be considered for a UDL-applied classroom: class climate, interaction (not just between students, but also between students, instructors, and staff), information resources and technology, feedback, and delivery methods.

    9/11: A Case for Implementing a UDL Framework

    9/11 is perceived as one of the seminal moments in history to have affected both U.S. domestic and foreign policy, but teaching the events and aftermath of 9/11 may be challenging in a traditional classroom. Teachers often face a dilemma as 1) what to do when the anniversary of 9/11 comes around every year and 2) how to address the 9/11 events in a classroom in a meaningful way for all students. In addition, teachers do not have a set curriculum mandated by the Department of Education; and a majority of states’ standards do not mention 9/11 in their high school standards. To complicate matters even further, the events of 9/11 continue to be compounded with more issues, adding more complexities to the existing issues at hand. In other words, our knowledge of 9/11 evolves with time and space. So, how can we meaningfully make sense of 9/11 and its subsequent events and sustain engagement in classrooms? How can students, with or without disabilities, make sense of this?

    In response to this challenge, there is a plethora of resources related to 9/11 both in print and on the web for educators to use to discuss this complex subject. The Department of Education has a selected list of lesson plans including Positive School Climate and 9/11 and 9/11 and the Constitution. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum also provides lesson plans for grades 9-12 on a wide range of topics such as The Women of 9/11, The Dogs of 9/11, and musical tributes. If all these resources are already available, then why use UDL?

    Universal Design for Learning is not to replace the curriculum nor disregard newly developed materials. The call for UDL lessons is to encourage educators to recognize and understand that these resources are part of the larger knowledge production processes and continue to think about the ways in which we intentionally and effectively engage all students with various learning styles on the topic of 9/11. It is an open invitation for educators to explore options and opportunities available to design their environment and lesson on this topic so all students have access to learning. UDL is a framework that allows for the time and space for both educators and students to intentionally and comprehensively engage with knowledge that continuously gets produced regarding complex issues like 9/11.

    Much of discussion on 9/11 in- and outside the classrooms falls into two categories: 1) public service and remembrance and 2) global terrorism. And much of discussion about 9/11 is obscured by the failure to distinguish between the events of 9/11 and the produced knowledge about the events. What is important, then, is to remember that the event itself is not controversial. What is at the center of debate is not the events that took place on 9/11, but rather the subsequent events, policies implemented by centralized government institutions, and the effect these had on different groups in our society. By applying UDL in a lesson, shifting our attention from what to teach to both how and what to engage, educators can go beyond teaching about the facts of 9/11 and can address the ways in which we produce knowledge about this particular event.

    Applying UDL in a classroom is in no way to serve as a panacea to addressing challenges involved in teaching complex issues, but is rather an approach that welcomes teachers to utilize principles of flexibility and choice embedded in UDL to engage with difficult topics such as 9/11 in a meaningful way. In applying the UDL framework to a classroom, educators partake in the knowledge production processes by 1) understanding how structure of the class (e.g. physical space and curriculum) impacts the ways in which students interact with idea(s) and 2) designing a curriculum unit accordingly. Incorporating a creative twist to traditional course content and foregoing a strict commitment to chronological frames may be helpful in classroom discussions.

    The goal of UDL based curriculum unit is not to reach a sound conclusion about this complex topic that students can walk away with by the end of the lesson. It is rather to welcome students to realize that there is no one “right” way to make sense of the events of 9/11, and to recognize that not every perspective on 9/11 has an equal value!


    About UDL. CAST. Available from: castprofessionallearning.org/about-udl/.

    Balakit, M, et al. (2006). Teaching 9/11: To Them, It's History, Just like Pearl Harbor. USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network. Available from: www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2016/09/08/how-schools-teach-911/89675850/.

    Hartley, M. (2015). Shifting the conversation: Improving Access with Universal Design. Exhibitionist, 34(2), 42-45.

    Hulette, E. (2011). Teaching 9/11: Attacks Prominent in History Textbooks. Pilot. Available from: pilotonline.com/news/local/education/article_9dafb332-7f5c-5582-b435-336a010b6106.html.

    Robelen, E. (2019). Majority of States' Standards Don't Mention 9/11. Education Week, 21 Feb. Available from: www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/08/31/02sept11_ep.h31.html.

    The Traditional Classroom Works so Why Change It? ESchool News, 22 Feb. 2017. Available from: www.eschoolnews.com/2017/02/23...

    United in Remembrance, Divided over Policies. (2018). Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 24 Sept. 2018, Available from: www.people-press.org/2011/09/01/united-in-remembrance-divided-over-policies/

    Universal Design in Education: Principles and Applications. Universal Design in Education: Principles and Applications | DO-I. Available from: www.washington.edu/doit/universal-design-education-principles-and-applications.



    Your UDL Lesson Planner by Patti Ralabate

    Design and Deliver: Planning and Teaching Using Universal Design for Learning by Loui Lord Nelson

    UDL Now! by Katie Novak

    A wide selection of books are found at CAST Publishing

    Free Resources:

    UDL in 15 Minutes: A podcast where educators are interviewed about their implementation of UDL. There is a straight podcast or you can use YouTube and hear the same information with pictures (www.theudlapproach.com/media)

    Go to www.understood.org and use the search feature (the magnifying glass in the upper right hand corner) to search for UDL. There are some great pieces in there. Two of them include a comparison table about traditional classrooms and classrooms implementing UDL and a video of a teacher about his use of the framework and why he uses it.

    CAST designed resources can be obtained at www.castprofressionallearning....

    www.learningdesigned.org: A platform built by the UDL-IRN (affiliated with CAST) where people in the field submit resources for dissemination.

    Jinseul Jun (GU Global Health Fellow, SFS ’20)

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    Ready or Not? Early Childhood Teachers and Children with Disabilities

    Seher Emmez (GUCEI ’18) September 30, 2019

    As an Early Childhood Teacher in my native Turkey and here in the United States, I did not feel I had enough knowledge about working with infants, toddlers, and young children with disabilities to include them in programming or be an effective teacher. For example, I did not know what the common developmental delays and disabilities were; how to support children with developmental delays and disabilities in a classroom; nor the significant role the family plays in this process. I had five years of teaching experience in Turkey but did not think that I had worked with children with developmental delays or disabilities. However, now that I have more knowledge about disabilities, I think I probably did. I just did not notice that some of my students had a delay or a disability because I lacked the knowledge about developmental delays and disabilities. It was a difficult realization because I believe in the significant role of early childhood educators have in identifying and developing appropriate interventions for the ultimate learning and development of children with delays and disabilities.

    As I entered my second year in graduate school in the United States, I added specialized training in early intervention through the Georgetown University Graduate Certificate in Early Intervention program as an opportunity to learn more about infants, toddlers and young children with disabilities. I learned many things but most of all, I learned four things all early childhood teachers should know to feel prepared to teach ALL children:

    1. Knowledge about specific disabilities or developmental delays is not enough;
    2. We need strategies to ensure all children are included in our classrooms;
    3. Families are key for all children; and
    4. We need more information about the culture and language diversity of the students we teach.

    Knowledge about developmental delays and disabilities is not enough. We also need to understand what to do to assess a young child’s needs and know where to get help. As I have gotten experience as a substitute teacher, I have seen several children with developmental delays or disabilities in regular education classrooms with classroom teachers. Some teachers were able to support those children and some were not. When I questioned myself on my ability to confidently and competently teach the children, my answer was a resounding, “not sure”. Given that I had no experience at American public schools and limited education about inclusion, I could not say that “Yes! I can do it!” when I looked into this a bit more, I found that it was not just me. Content about educating children with developmental delays or disabilities is not required (Horm, Hyson & Winton, 2013) in forty percent of all early childhood teacher preparation programs. Although, inclusion has been found to be one of the best practices for ALL children (Devarakonda, 2013), early childhood teacher preparation programs do not require training working in this area few teachers feel prepared to support children with disabilities..

    Early childhood teachers need to know there are already sets of strategies that can help. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is one of them. “UDL is a philosophy and a variety of multiple approaches to make learning accessible to a wide range of students” (Basham, et al., 2010 as cited in Carnahan, Crowley, Holness, 2016, p. 11). Through a responsive and flexible curriculum, UDL provides options for presenting information, responding, and showing students’ skills and knowledge and the engagement of students in learning (Ralabate, 2011). For example, brain-breaks, graffiti boards or problem-solving checklists are some of the UDL-aligned strategies to improve engagement, representation, and expression. For more information please visit http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl. Early childhood technical assistance center-ectacenter.org/topics/atech/udl.asp

    Key to successful inclusion is partnering with families and other service providers. . We sometimes take for granted families of children in our classrooms, although families are one of the important pillars of child development. In philosophy, both Early Interventionists and Early Childhood Educators emphasize the importance of family engagement. However, in practice, Early Childhood Educators fail to engage families in their children’s development and education.

    Since from the beginning of the Georgetown University Graduate Certificate in Early Intervention program, we are taught how we should meet the families’ needs, value their priorities, and embrace their differences because the child is also a member of the family and family has a great impact on child’s development (Keilty, 2010). At the end of the program, I had the chance of learning how it looks in practice through practicing a coaching session and watching my colleagues’ coaching sessions. It was amazing to see how early interventionists respected families’ differences, shared decision makings or let families do the activities. Those were interactive relationships. I also had lots of experiences through long-term and short-term substitute teaching at several public schools across Fairfax County in Virginia. Unfortunately, when compared to the early interventionists, early childhood teachers have limited relationships with children’s families especially families who are more diverse or have multiple and varied challenges, concerns, and priorities and limited resources.

    Given to the increasing diversity in the United States, not having strong relationships with children’s families might be a big problem for the development and academic well-being of growing generations. Therefore, early childhood educators have an important role to remove challenges and augment family engagement. Integrating different cultures into curriculum and classroom is an effective way to have families feel welcomed. Moreover, asking parents their opinions and sharing decisions help them feel heard and engaged.

    Through the Georgetown University Graduate Certificate in Early Intervention program I improved my knowledge about infants, toddlers and young children’s development, characteristics of common disabilities, how to support children with developmental delays and disabilities, the role of families in children’s development and the importance of collaboration with other team members. As a prospective early childhood teacher, I hope to learn more about innovations in supporting children with disabilities.


    Carnahan, C. D., Crowley, K. & Holness, P. (2016). Implementing Universal Design for Learning. Global Education, 2016(4). 10-19.

    Devarakonda, C. (2013). Diversity and inclusion in early childhood: An introduction. Thousand, Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Horm, D. M., Hyson, Marilou & Winton, P. J. (2013). Research on Early Childhood Teacher Education: Evidence from Three Domains and Recommendations for Moving Forward. Early Childhood Teacher Education, 34(1). 95-112.

    Ralabate, P. K. (2011). Universal Design for Learning: Meeting the Needs of All Students. Retrieved from http://www.readingrockets.org/article/universal-design-learning-meeting-needs-all-students

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