Room for Kids with Special Needs @ Woodstock City Church

On a recent visit to Woodstock City Church in Atlanta, I was able to get a behind the scenes tour of their room for kids with special needs.  The staff person in the room was super helpful and explained how their program works.  Here are some pics from my visit to their campus.

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The room was clean and organized.  They had several areas for different activities.

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Just like all of their other rooms, they displayed their key words and vision statements for elementary kids.  They displayed crafts and pictures that kids in that room made.

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The variety of textures and seating options helped to include all kids so they could learn in a way that worked for them.  Pictures and words displayed the morning routine to help kids know what to expect.

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They provided areas for kids to socialize in a group or be in a space with less interaction.

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What I loved most about this room was that they still focused on teaching the kids a Bible lesson.  They worked with each child to teach them in a way that worked for them.  They wanted kids to know how much God loves them, and that they were welcome in that space.  This space communicated that someone took time to create a space for kids to learn in a way that works best for them.  When kids with special needs come to Woodstock City Church they try to incorporate them in the elementary classes.  If a child would prefer to be in a room with fewer people, then families have the option to chose this room where they would be more comfortable.  They had another room in their student ministries area as well.  It was great to see that they included all kids even as they got older.

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Kids with Special Needs Ministry – Recruiting Video

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Special Friends is the name of the ministry that we have at our church for a one-on-one buddy system for children with special needs.  This fall we have an increased number of children with special needs.  We want to do everything we can to help them learn in a way that works the best for them while they are in our Kids Program.  Their Special Friend connects with them & builds a relationship with them like no other volunteer in our Kids Ministry.  I love seeing the Special Friends Teams together!

We created a video to help raise awareness about our Special Friends Program at our church.  Hopefully people will realize the huge impact a Special Friend has on a child.  We are showing this video in our Sunday Morning service & then will share it on social media.  You can view the video we made here:

Whether you are creating a recruiting video for special needs or another ministry in your church, you should include the following:

  1.  Real people.  People want to hear about things that are actually happening in the lives of real people.  That’s why reality TV is so popular in our culture.
  2. Tell a story.  Tell about the challenges the person is facing & the impact the ministry is having on them.
  3. The difference.  Tell about the difference in their lives.  Without this ministry, this family’s life would be drastically different.
  4. Ask for help.  Once you tell the story, ask people to come and be a part of making a difference, so that more lives can be impacted.
  5. Next step.  Provide a way for people to respond.  A website, an email or a contact person.

With an Iphone and movie editing software, you can create a recruiting video that will tell the story of the ministry you want to highlight.

How to handle food allergies in kids ministry

Food Allergies are common in children.  Kids Ministry should be a place where kids are safe & details such as food allergies are important.  When I was at Crossroads Church they told me about their system when it comes to Food Allergies.

  1. Parents are responsible to put an Allergy Sticker on their child each week.  Stickers are available at every check-in station.  Parents simply write the allergy on the sticker, and put it on their child.  They use round stickers that have red printing on them, so that it stands out from their name tag.
  2. Snack options are limited to 2 choices.  Goldfish crackers & Graham Crackers.  That’s it.  Nothing else.
  3. Stickers are placed on the snack containers that clearly label the name of the snack as well as common allergy ingredients that are found in that snack (e.g. milk, wheat)
  4. A list of ingredients is taped on the inside of the cupboard door for volunteers to easily reference.  The font size is much larger than what you would read on a packaging label.  Easy to read!
  5. A list of ingredients is laminated & kept in the snack cupboard to give to parents to read if they ask about an ingredient list.

Click on the pictures above if you want to see a larger version.

Here’s a great idea to help volunteers communicate with kids who sign

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This past weekend I went to visit Crossroads Church in Cincinnati.  I took a team of Kids Ministry Volunteers with me so we could learn from them.  It’s about an 8 hour drive from where I live, and I was excited to take a team of people with me so they could see the church, and their kids ministry in action.  Crossroads staff and volunteers were so welcoming and went out of their way to help us learn all that we could.  This was my 2nd visit, and I learned many new things.

Crossroads has a room for kids with special needs.  This room is available for children who would benefit from a quieter space.  Displayed on the wall in this room was a Sign Language Poster.  Many children are able to communicate through sign language, and this poster was a great tool for volunteers who many not use sign language on a regular basis.  You can find this poster on Etsy.  I’ve already ordered one.

 

 

A Bible for kids with Autism

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When I was at CPC2014 in Orlando I had the opportunity to meet Sergio Cariello.  He is the guy who illustrated The Action Bible.

What I love about this Bible, is that it is a Graphic Novel.  It is also full color & the pages are glossy paper.  My son who has autism has some sensory challenges and he doesn’t like to touch most paper.  However, because The Action Bible is made with glossy paper, the texture does not bother him.

The Action Bible makes a great option for kids who have  challenges reading.   It’s graphic novel style helps tell the stories of the Bible in a way that speaks to their learning style.  It’s also a great option for children who have sensory issues because of the glossy pages.

What resources do you use in your children’s ministry to help kids with special needs?

3 Reasons why we have a Special Friends Ministry

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I have a 13 year old son with special needs.  I know that he does not fit the typical mold for kids his age.  At school his teachers have made accommodations for him that allow him to learn and grow just like the other kids.

When children come to our church with unique challenges, I want to do everything I can to help them learn and grow just like the rest of the kids.  If our Sunday morning program doesn’t work for their learning needs, then we need to adapt the way in which we teach them.   We have a ministry called Special Friends.  It’s a volunteer role for one-on-one ministry.  The same volunteer spends time with the same child each week.

Here are 3 reasons why we have a Special Friends Ministry:

1.  Safety – A Special Friend can watch over the child with special needs, and help them be safe in a kids ministry environment.

2.  Growth – I know that each child with special needs is unique.  However, if they are able to grow & learn then we need to to all that we can to help them learn while they are at church.

3.  Parent Respite – Having a child with special needs can be challenging for the parents.  Giving them time where they can attend the adult service without worrying about their child is a huge gift that you can give them.

If kids can benefit from having a one-on-one volunteer with them, we find one for them.  Their role is to help that child feel safe, loved and accepted in the kids ministry environment, and to learn and grow in a way that is unique to them.  Here are the steps to making this happen:

#1. When a family attends for the first time, I make an extra effort to welcome them, chat with them & see how we can serve them.  If they plan on coming on a regular basis, then I start to look for someone to be their child’s Special Friend.
#2. The volunteer (Special Friend) meets with the parents of the child to find out about their specific needs and methods that will help them learn.
#3. The volunteer meets the child when the parents are there so they can interact together.
#4. Once they have connected, I leave the communication up to them.  They connect as needed, and adapt what they are doing as needed.
#5.  The volunteer goes with the child every week to the class.  They stay with the child as they move up in age groups.  They don’t help other children in the room, and they don’t teach the lesson to the class.  They are there to focus on that one child, and they have no other responsibilities.

The picture in this post is of a Special Friend Team at our church.  It is so great to see the two of them together.  The bond they have developed is truly amazing.