Do you ever feel like you’re not prepared to help your kids with special needs? Do you wonder if the child who struggles with cognitive challenges, the child who is non-verbal, or the child with ADHD is learning anything about the Bible? Do you wonder if they will ever understand the gospel?
You’re not alone in your thoughts. We have a growing population of children with special needs in our communities, and many of them are in our Sunday school classes. How do we minister to them? This article will lend encouragement and shed some ideas to make your ministry successful.
Whether the children at your church are placed in inclusion Sunday school classes or in classes specifically designed for children with their special needs, how do you choose a curriculum? Or how do you adapt what you already have to tailor to the needs of all the children in your ministry? The following guidelines will aid you in choosing curriculum that meets the needs of children with learning challenges.
Is the curriculum biblically sound? This is the most important key to finding successful material. Make sure your lessons are coming from a credible source that promotes sound theology. Not sure? Check the publisher’s “About” page on their website or request a promo copy of their curriculum for review.
Keep it simple. Simple doesn’t equal less. Lessons that teach simple biblical truths will go a long way in the classroom. Give them small nuggets of truth at a time. For example, if you’re teaching about the Parable of the Prodigal Son, you might want to emphasis the truth that God loves us even when we make mistakes. Keep your lessons short—10-15 minutes tops. Remember, your children are concrete thinkers.
Repetition promotes retention. In our special needs class, we repeat the same lesson two weeks in a row. Our teachers have plenty of options in the lessons to choose from, and they also incorporate Bible songs from their childhood memories. The second week of the particular lesson, our teacher will focus on another element of the story. What’s awesome is that our kids are remembering these lessons! If our teacher mentions the Pharaoh during the second lesson of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, a child will make a crown gesture and say, “Let my people go!” Such actions indicate that while we don’t know everything that they are learning, these children are internalizing at least some of what they are hearing.
Variety is the spice of life. Or at least it is when you’re looking at a curriculum. Kids love to touch, move, and manipulate things. Use objects they can hold. Incorporate textures. Use lots of visuals. For example, if you’re talking about Noah and the ark from Genesis 7, give each child a toy animal. When you talk about God telling Noah to put the animals in the ark, allow each child to place their animals in a toy boat.
Remember the “Let my people go!” phrase? Try using phrases or key biblical truths (e.g., “God loves me”) that they can repeat after you say a certain word. Use fun songs, along with an assortment of pictures and activity pages. Some curriculums provide short videos, which can be very engaging. The iPad is becoming common in the classroom. There are tons of apps you can download, depending on your child’s needs. There’s even an app with “yes” and “no” buttons. Lessons are flexible. Adapt them to the needs of your children.
Once you choose a curriculum, you may be wondering who’s going to teach these children. Michelle* and Jack* were just a couple who heard about our ministry in their Sunday school class. They had no previous experience in special education, but they are talented and invaluable teachers to our ministry. The Bible is full of unlikely people used to do extraordinary things, such as Gideon (Judges 6-7), who was the weakest in his family and his family was the weakest of their clan (6:15). However, God used Gideon to defeat a massive army with only 300 men. Cast the vision for your ministry that God equips whom He calls. Find teachers with a passion for children with special needs. Give them the tools, training and guidance they need; then, watch them come alive in your classroom.
Your curriculum is only a tool, not an answer. It’s not about the variety of activities. It’s not about the simplicity or length of your lesson. And it’s not about recruiting passionate volunteers. The most important thing your kids will ever experience is God’s Word. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” If you question whether or not your children are getting it, remember that God’s Word does not return empty (Isaiah 55:10-11). It is because of the work of the Holy Spirit that our hearts are changed. All of us, with or without special needs, are unable to comprehend the Word of God without the help of the Holy Spirit. We must be dependent upon Him, and while you may not see all the fruits of your labor now, trust the Lord’s Word and the Lord’s work in people’s lives.
*Names changed for privacy