Statistics are showing a huge increase in the number of children who have some sort of special need. There are multiple reasons for this increase, but in any Bible class for kids or teens, you will probably have one or more students who will need you to adapt the lesson or activity in some way. If you fail to make those changes, the children who needed them will often walk away having gained little if anything from the time they spent in class. As a Bible class teacher, you should be passionate about every student learning everything they possibly can from what you are teaching them about God. This means you will often have to adapt your lesson in one or more ways.
Adapting curriculum sounds a bit scary and overwhelming. You may think you need an advanced degree in special education or lots of extra time and money to adapt your Bible class curriculum. In reality though, doing a few simple things can change everything for your students who have special needs.
Here are the top six things you can do to help students with special needs:
- Ask the student’s parents. Most parents who have a child with special needs are experts in what their child needs in a learning environment. (Parents of preschool children or who are in denial may not be quite as helpful.) They would usually love for you to ask what you can do to help their child learn more easily while in your class. Do be respectful, though. Have the conversation in private in case they don’t want to discuss their child’s needs in front of others. Ask respectful questions. Check back after making needed adaptations to see if they are really helping the child or if you need to make further adjustments. Asking the student’s parents to help you will make the process much quicker and more effective than trial and error.
- Look at your classroom environment through the eyes of your student. Depending upon the special need of the child, your classroom might need wider aisles to accommodate a wheelchair or supplies on lower shelves for a little person. Some students may need special supplies adapted to meet their physical needs. Make sure your physical classroom environment doesn’t prevent the child from participating in classroom activities (or make it unnecessarily difficult).
- Check sensory aspects of your lesson and activity. This one is perhaps the toughest to navigate. In general, the more of a student’s senses you can involve in a lesson or activity, the better. Some children with special needs though have one or more of their senses that function outside of the average range. Some may have senses that are dulled or don’t function at all – like sight or hearing. Others may be hyper-sensitive and find loud noises, bright lights, strong smells and more almost painful. Once again, the parent or the older student is your best source for knowing how to adapt your lesson or activity. If it is a situation where you aren’t aware of an issue or have just met the child, be prepared to adapt the sensory part of your lesson plan in the moment.
- Eliminate as much student reading and writing as possible. This is one of our standard suggestions for all Bible classes. Academic issues are not always obvious and many children bear permanent scars from being expected to read and/or write things beyond their abilities in Bible class. Since you are more concerned about the spiritual learning than the academic progress of your students, there really is no reason to risk embarrassing a student by including a lot of reading and writing activities. In fact, most activities requiring a lot of reading and writing aren’t the most effective ways for any of your students to learn Bible lessons and should be adapted anyway.
- Be aware of social issues. Some children with special needs may also have one or more issues with social interaction. This is important not only for student relationships, but also potential activities. If you have a student who is socially awkward for any reason, think carefully before giving out partner or group projects or playing games. If not handled well, these situations can cause even more social problems and frustration and embarrassment for many of your students. Often, after talking with parents and/or students you can find strategies that will allow you to continue these activities in ways that can be enjoyed by everyone.
- Prepare for transitions. Transitions are something rarely discussed in the context of a Bible class. Most of us only have 45 minutes to an hour of class time. Whether you realize it or not though, any time your students change positions (like standing for a song or moving locations in the room) or activities (from Bible story to activity), that is a transition. Students with special needs may need extra time, assistance or cues to help them navigate these transitions well. If your students all seem to transition at the same pace and without difficulties, then continue with what is already working for your class.
Making a few changes in your Bible lessons and activities can mean students with special needs learn as much from your class as any other student. Whatever you do, NEVER sit a child with special needs to the side and just give a coloring sheet to him or her. That is definitely not the way to live out the Golden Rule as a teacher. Taking a little extra time and effort and making your class one in which everyone can participate and learn is definitely worth it!