Involving Kids with Special Needs

by Landry Holmes

Two-year-old Philip enjoyed coming to Sunday School. He often walked around the room looking at the various Bible-learning centers, but he did not participate in the art center.

Then, one day Philip discovered paint! Philip is a beautiful child with a contagious smile and light red hair. He has Down Syndrome. On the day Philip discovered paint, we were easel painting for the first time. As he painted with purple paint on his brush, I talked to Philip about a woman named Lydia in the Bible; and he listened intently.

Philip's other Sunday School teachers and I have found additional ways to involve him in Bible learning. A teacher in another preschool department found a large, nonbreakable mirror mounted on the back of a shelf. Philip now enjoys sitting in front of the mirror, which just happens to be located in the puzzles/manipulatives center.

When we had a homeliving activity that involved eating, Philip did not stand up at the table to eat with his peers. We soon realized that Philip would eat if he could sit in a chair. Now, all the preschoolers in the room enjoy sitting at the table and eating together!

Philip, like other preschoolers with special needs, can and does learn about God, Jesus, and the Bible. While there are a variety of special needs, here are some common considerations for preschool Sunday School teachers. Here are some ways you can involve preschoolers with special needs in Bible-learning activities:

  • Visit with parents, preferably in their home, to discover how their child learns. Talk about programs/schools she attends and find out how you can reinforce what she is learning.
  • Read and/or attend classes in order to learn about specific special needs.
  • Be loving, but firm. Preschoolers, especially those with special needs, can easily become frustrated. Provide activities that are both challenging and achievable. Gently guide preschoolers to complete an activity, such as a puzzle, before moving to another learning center.
  • Have enough teachers in the room so that one teacher can give the child with special needs one-on-one attention without overwhelming him. This helps the child learn in ways he learns best and prevents negative behavior.
  • Use Bible story conversation, Bible verses and phrases, and songs throughout the session, even when preschoolers appear disinterested. Encourage preschoolers to respond in ways they can communicate, such as signing, speaking, or touching.
  • Refrain from talking about preschoolers with special needs in front of other preschoolers. Model appropriate behavior by valuing, loving, and teaching each preschooler in your room.

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