Across our state, the percentage of elementary-aged children who receive special education services is close to 12 percent. When you include children who receive help for learning disabilities and emotional or behavioral challenges, the number is closer to 20 percent. If the children who join us in our summer activities (like VBS) reflect the statistics in our communities, close to 20 percent of them will need help to fully participate and understand the gospel message. Accessible tools and practical tips can help you make sure you’re prepared to welcome as many children as possible this summer. Here are five ideas to get you started:
- Noise-reducing headphones—Loud noises in your group music time might be overwhelming for kids with sensory sensitives. If you notice a child covering his/her ears, you can offer noise-reducing headphones to help. They are available on Amazon and anywhere hunting accessories are sold.
- A clearly communicated schedule (a visual one if possible)—Knowing what’s next helps to lower the anxiety of children who are new to your church or unsure of what might happen next. When possible, we print out images that represent each activity and use Velcro to create a visual schedule so even our youngest students know what to expect next.
- Using “first/then” so children know what’s next—Even if you’ve shared the schedule with your students, they may need reminders of what to expect. We often use “first/then” to help them wait during something they aren’t super excited about, knowing a favorite activity is coming soon. For example, “First we will have game time, then we will wash our hands and have a snack,” or “First we will listen to the Bible story, then we will break into smaller groups for our activity.”
- Large print options—If you’re asking kids to write down something from a slide or a marker board, have copies of the information written/typed in large print for children with vision issues or children who struggle to spell as they might have to spend too much time looking back and forth from what they are supposed to write down to the paper they are writing it on.
- A visual timer—For the kids who really can’t wait for what’s next, you can use a visual timer to count down the minutes. You can find these on Amazon or download the app on your phone. Visual timers are also helpful when it’s time to clean up or there’s a limit on how long you can take for snack time or potty break time. There isn’t an adult to argue with when the expectation is being set by the timer.
Any of these tools and tips can help make VBS and your other summer activities easier on kids who need a little extra help. We certainly don’t want anything to be a barrier to them hearing the gospel and being part of the fun at church. Thank you for your creativity when it comes to meeting the needs of all the kids God will bring to your ministry this year.
The SBTC team is praying for you to have an awesome summer full of fun and opportunities to share the gospel, and we’re here to help however we can. You can find VBS video training on the SBTC website, including a video on supporting students with special needs. You can also email me with specific questions you have. As the special needs ministry consultant for the state, I’m happy to help.