Disability Doesn’t Mean Disadvantage: The High Scope Approach to Early Education

Posted in Development and Learning Early Childhood  |  Tagged , ,

by Ian Timoteo Franza (GU ’25)

Comprehensive and accessible early education is essential for all children but is especially important for those with disabilities. Early education helps children with disabilities develop the necessary life skills necessary and receive specialized services needed to reach their full potential. Yet, for many today, education continues to be a privilege too far out of reach — especially for those who identify as low-income and/or walk through life with a disability. For this reason, programs such as Head Start have become proper prototypes for what education could and should look like. With these federally funded programs, the future of disability does not have to be synonymous with disadvantage.

Head Start is a federally funded early childhood education program that provides comprehensive services to low-income children and their families. Designed to help children prepare for school and succeed in life as they grow up, the program adopts various approaches to education through differing models, one of their most notable being High Scope. High Scope is an approach that emphasizes active-learning and centers around child-initiated activities, a learning style not too far off from the likes of Montessori and other student-guided educational alternatives.

Specifically noted as a program well-suited for children with disabilities, the High Scope organization writes, “Children construct their own knowledge of the world with the support of intentional teachers who shape and encourage their individual learning experiences… Children make their own discoveries and build their own initiatives by creating plans, following through on their intentions, and reflecting on their learning” (High Scope). While being nourished by their shared experiences with their peers, children with disabilities are also offered an educational experience entirely catered to their needs; they are the driving force behind their own learning.

There is growing evidence that the High Scope approach is beneficial for students with disabilities, specifically as a result of its focuses on cognition, creativity, social-development and language skills, all of which are integral and scheduled parts of each day’s lessons. In Sunny Bright Day Nursery’s introduction to their use of High Scope, they highlight the importance of routine, especially for children with disabilities in their care. They write, “A predictable routine helps children to feel secure so that they are able to learn with confidence. A routine also helps them to relate to time and sequence” (Sunny Bright Day). For these reasons, Small Group Time, Circle Time, Clean-Up Time, and many other everyday skills build in specific of communication and self-care activities. Additionally, having these activities at structured times throughout the day fosters the understanding of what needs to be done when — an important skill to have as these children grow into adults. High Scope also encourages parents to reinforce these ideas out of the classroom through proper communication and expressed interest, two key practices that can greatly impact the view children with disabilities have on their learning (Morrison, 2023).

The High Scope component of Head Start education aims to provide children with disabilities with a safe and supporting learning environment and parents the tools provide the added support their children need for proper development. Studies have shown that the High Scope approach is linked to both short- and long-term impacts such as a future of higher economic performance, lower crime rates in adulthood, as well as increased stability in health and family dynamics (Schweinhart, et al, 2005). While many different educational models are effective and beneficial, High Scope has succeeded greatly in its mission to help foster the minds of young children, especially those with disabilities. Through its commendable philosophies on learning, the program reaches for a future in which having a disability does not mean living at a disadvantage.


High Scope. “Our Approach to Early Childhood Education.” HighScope, 20 Mar. 2020, highscope.org/our-practice/our-approach/.

Morrison, G S. High Scope: A Constructivist Approach | Education, www.education.com/download-pdf/reference/26196/. Accessed 13 July 2023.

Schweinhart, L.J. The HighScope/Perry Pre-School Study Through Age 40, nieer.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/specialsummary_rev2011_02_2.pdf. Accessed 13 July 2023.

Sunny Bright Day. An Introduction to the HighScope Approach – Sunny Bright Day Nursery, www.sunnybrightdaynursery.co.uk/Linkingnursery/Introduction%20to%20HighScope.pdf. Accessed 14 July 2023.

Weikart, D. P., and. Schweinhart, L.J. “Apa PsycNet.” American Psychological Association, psycnet.apa.org/record/1997-97211-007. Accessed 14 July 2023.