- First of all, be absolutely certain your volunteers understand the vision, mission and passion you have for all children in your ministry. Be absolutely certain all your volunteers share your vision, mission and passion and will not say or do anything to damage a family with a child who has special needs. I know a family who had special needs children. One time when they visited a church, the mother overheard teachers talking about her children and how they "hoped" they wouldn't be "stuck" with them in their classes. Do NOT let this happen in your ministry. EVER.
- Secondly, make a regular point to consistently teach the children in your ministry about what it means to really show Jesus' love to all others. Be sure the children in your ministry understand why it matters for them to welcome all others . . . whether they are someone with a special need or not.
- Thirdly, I believe it is important to talk with the parents/caregivers of any special needs children in your ministry. Be absolutely clertain they know their child(ren) are welcome and it is your desire to do whatever you can to help them feel at home in your ministry. Ask the parents/caregivers what the specific needs are for their child(ren) and if they have any suggestions as to any specific things you can do to insure their child(ren) feel comfortable and are able to participate. Every child is unique - whether they have special needs or not, so do not assume you have a "one-size-fits-all" ministry.
- Finally, have a plan in place to bring in helpers/buddies to assist a child rather than require parents to stay with their child. All parents need the support, encouragement and "refreshment" they are able to receive from being a participant in an adult class/service, but especially parents who have the additional stresses of caring for a child with special needs. Be absolutely certain all helpers/buddies meet your age requirements - at least 16 years old - are fully screened and trained. Be certain they understand if they need to take their "buddy" on a short walk during class time, they are not to be alone with the child - make sure the bring someone else with them. Be sure to include in their training how to redirect children and how to help them relax and stress where they may and may not take a child who needs a short walk.
As for "tweeking" the curriculum you use in your ministry - which I think is a great idea in most instances as it allows all children to be on the same scope and sequence - try these ideas -
- When it comes to Scripture memory, shorten a verse and replace difficult words with simpler words/ideas. Look at Bible translations such as the New Living Bible, the Message, the Common English Bible or the New International readers Version.
- Be sure your volunteers know how to plan to adapt their lessons to fit the needs of the children in their class. If a child has a very short attention span, teachers could plan to mix things up, share part of the lesson, have an activity and then return to complete the Bible lesson and involve children in a more hands-on and active manner.
- If a child needs help with reading and writing, be sure someone is available to help them do this.
- If "activity" is too much for a child, be sure there is a place in the room where a child could go to have some "quiet" time with beanbags and books or coloring pages. This way the child is still in the room, but able to have some quiet time when needed.
- When you plan a "Put Feet to Their Faith" service project, be sure there is some way everyone in your ministry can help!
- Be sure each week to help all children find a way they can "live what they learned" and be sure parents know so they can continue the learning at home!
I'm not an "expert" by any means when it comes to meeting the needs of special needs children, but I highly recommend the following ministries/websites/blogs. Check them out for information and help so you can be sure your ministry is a safe and welcoming place where all children and their families will experience God's love!