I love the culture of my church. Even though we’re bursting at the seams, there is still a small, intimate feel. But with an increase in attendance comes a bigger number of kids in our classrooms, and it’s becoming harder to manage our kids that have a high level of energy. If you serve in a Sunday school classroom you know how the first 15 minutes of a service goes…kids being dropped off at all different times, some are still being picked up. The first quarter of the hour is usually the hardest to manage.
And with special needs kids in the class, structure and direction are required. The kids in my buddy program are often fueled by chaos, so if one of them walks into a classroom with kids running around, they get sucked right into it. I then must spend the rest of the morning trying to reset their expectations for Sunday school, which isn’t usually welcomed with a positive attitude. They are kids, and they want to have fun as any kid does. But my kids have a harder time transitioning from running around to structured activities.
In these last several months, I’ve tried a couple of strategies to make the transition a little easier. I need to be honest, they don’t work every time. But I’ve seen more success when applying them, then when I don’t.
1. Prepare a game or activity that has your kid sitting down for the first 10 minutes of the morning.
Sometimes the prepared lesson for the day has coloring sheets or word puzzles for kids to do right as they walk in. These can be a great way to engage your special needs kids from the beginning, so their high energy doesn’t immediately take over. If your kid can’t read or doesn’t like coloring, find a game or toy that they do like to play with that will keep them in one place.
2. Have a structured game planned.
Sometimes, my kids come into Sunday school already bursting with energy and I find it impossible to get them focused enough to sit in one place. On days like these, it’s better that I allow them to expel some of their energy first. I try to have a controlled game planned that allows them to get some of their wiggles out but is also very structured with direct oversight. Some games I’ve tried are “Simon Says”, “Red Light, Green Light”, and “Four Corners”. These games still require my kids to follow instruction and be in tune to the rules, which helps them when we need to transition to the next activity.
If you are a seasoned special needs volunteer and have other tips or great games to offer, we’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.