You never know what you’re going to get.
Several weeks ago, I was providing an orientation to some new volunteers for our Special Friends Ministry. At one point, they asked me what a typical Sunday morning looks like as a Special Friend. I had to smile. If only I could put a Sunday morning experience into a box! It sure would make my life a whole lot easier.
Some Sundays, I wonder why God called me to serve kids with special needs. It’s rough when a morning is filled with one failure after another. Then there are other Sundays where I walk away thinking about how easy it is to work with these amazing kids! It can be so fulfilling. I will say, that no matter what kind of Sunday I’m having with my kiddos, I always walk away having learned something new.
Every time I walk into church, I never really know what I’m going to be met with that day. And, in light of that, there are a few things I’ve learned that help me prepare for whatever may come.
- Weekday Check-Ins: I can typically tell pretty quickly if my little friends are going to have a rough day. Sometimes there are tears and other times there are toys flying across the room as soon as they walk in. As I check-in with their parents during drop off, I usually learn about circumstances that created a hard morning or even a hard week. Home life definitely plays a part in a child’s mental and emotional state when they walk into the classroom. Especially for kids with special needs. So, I’ve learned that a weekday check-in is helpful. It normally looks like a simple text message or email to the parents on a Thursday evening to see what kind of week they’ve been having. Then I have a few days to think through a good strategy for Sunday morning if the child is having a bad week. Of course, something could happen between Thursday and Sunday morning, but the parents really appreciate the effort being put into the care of their child.
- Sunday Curriculum Overview: Transitions in Sunday school tend to be a trigger for a lot of my kiddos. So, it’s helpful when I receive the lesson from the teacher a few days before. Knowing what’s coming helps me be more prepared to handle potential melt downs. And it’s also a great opportunity to adapt any part of the lesson I feel like my kiddo may not be able to fully engage in with the rest of the class. Because I am working in an inclusive classroom, this kind of communication is essential. If you are working in a dedicated special needs classroom, this may not be as applicable.
- Have Flexible Expectations: Even with extensive preparation, Sunday mornings can still go awry. So, I always try to be as prepared as I can be for the morning, keeping in mind it may go very differently than I expected. If I can approach the morning with a flexible attitude, then it’s usually a much better experience both for me and my little friend. Each child is different, and some kids respond to structure and instruction better than others. The more you know your kiddo in and outside the classroom, the better you’ll be able to serve them on a Sunday morning.
What are some ways that you have found helpful in preparing to serve in your special needs ministry? I’d love to hear from you!
Rachel Roleder serves as the Manager of the Cause 4 Life, Global Missions and Internships Department at Joni and Friends. Rachel enjoys learning more of God’s design for His church as she leads teams of interns on disability ministry outreaches all over the world.