As congregations become more welcoming to families who have children with special needs, they may have volunteers who are uncertain how to best teach these children about God. Often, volunteers make poor choices because they are poorly trained. While every child is different, there are some basic best practices that will help every child learn as much as possible from their Bible classes.
- Include children with special needs in the regular Bible classes for their age group as much as possible. Children with special needs are still children. Most of them enjoy being with their same aged peers. There are only a very few exceptions when children with special needs may benefit from having their own environment. In general though, all children of the same age need to be in classes together.
- Ask the parents of children with special needs what accommodations their child may need to participate fully in the Bible class they will attend. Some students may not need any special accommodations – particularly if your activities are hands-on experiences. For others, often the accommodations the child’s school makes will work in Bible class as well.
- Encourage the parents of children with special needs to educate the other students about their child’s disability. Children have questions because of their lack of knowledge and life experience. They also need someone to explain to them the best ways to be a good friend to the student with special needs – especially if there are things they may want to do that could hurt the child and/or his or her special equipment. Often the parent is the best person to explain these things to the other children. The parent should also decide whether or not it is appropriate for their child to be in the room when this conversation occurs.
- Children with special needs may need a dedicated helper during class. This person should not be a parent in most cases – as they need to be fed spiritually themselves. The dedicated adult should receive any special training necessary to teach them how to maximize learning for the child they are assisting.
- You need a dedicated space for children with special needs to go when the Bible class environment is too stressful, they aren’t feeling well or they are disrupting their Bible class too much. This is a very delicate situation and the child’s parents should have a voice as to when their child will be in the dedicated environment. At times, class can be overwhelming and a student may need a break. Or their behaviors may become so disruptive no one can learn anything. (Mild disruptive behaviors – especially those out of the child’s control – should be seen as a way to actively practice God’s love.) This room should never be viewed as a “punishment”, but rather a safe place to rest or de-stress and learn about God.
- You may need special learning materials to best teach some children with special needs about God. In our next post, we will share some great resources we have seen. Once again, the parents and the student can guide you as to whether or not these special materials will help the child learn more effectively.
Taking the time to make your Bible classes an effective learning environment for every child is a great way to reflect God’s love. It is worth your time and effort.