Preschool teacher Vanessa Morales-Balquiedra has been teaching for 25 years now. She is one of the co-founders heading Kid’s First Discovery Space, a preschool offering programs for both typically developing children and those with additional needs. She partnered with her good friend, Jet Teves-Manalo when the latter came home from Australia after finishing her master’s degree in Early Childhood Intervention. Their school offers classes and integrated play groups for toddlers from 1 to 3 years old, as well as preschoolers from 3 to 5 years old.
Building a safe space
“I realized that there were some children who needed more help playing with others. Some kids needed more time to make friends, while others learned differently. Although we did not start Kid’s First as a school for children with additional needs, I definitely wanted kids of varied abilities to still be able to join us, play, and be kids.”
Kid’s First was built around the idea that it would be a kid’s first experience out of the home. “What we’re trying to do here is provide them with another set of people they can trust in the form of their teachers. We want them to realize that while their home is safe, the environment outside their house can also be fun and safe,” she explains.
Inclusivity is key
Expanding Kid’s First’s scope to be as inclusive as possible did not come easy, even with Vanessa and Jet’s extensive training. “Sometimes people don’t believe in inclusion—I think many don’t even know what it actually is,” she says. “Advocating for inclusion in a preschool setting is something new for parents of typically developing children, as well as for parents of children with additional needs. Though we aren’t the first in the Philippines to have an inclusion program, some parents still questioned us. Some of them are paralyzed by the stigma of having children with special needs play with their kids.”
“We looked for teachers who specifically believed in our advocacy.”
It was this stigma that pushed Vanessa to work even harder. “We looked for teachers who specifically believed in our advocacy—#loveALLkidsfirst. We taught them, by example, how we as teachers need to be open, flexible, knowledgeable, up to date, and more loving of all children.” Today, the school is a happy space where all kids with different abilities can learn, play, make friends, and simply be children—together.