What is “Universal Design”, you ask? And what can it possibly have to do with Story Hour and Little Lambs?
Universal design is an initiative to make something accessible to all. So to apply that to our work with children, we must ask if we are offering an environment where each child is able to grow and learn and to experience God’s love. This means setting up an environment where all children, those with abilities and disabilities, can connect with the gospel message.
Barb Newman, special education teacher and author with the Christian Learning Center (CLC), in her book, Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship, offers practical advice. She suggests that we begin by not labeling a child according to their disability. We so easily label a child, mentioning perhaps that this is Clayton, who has Down Syndrome. Barb says, “As Christians, it’s clear to see that this is not “Down syndrome Clayton.” Rather, this is Clayton. He has been hand-knit and designed by God to fill a specific spot in His kingdom. God has given him gifts to use within the body of Christ, and he is to be considered an honored and indispensable member of that body. Clayton is a dearly loved child of God who happens to have Down syndrome as part of his God-given design."
This mind-set of seeing every child as specially designed by God, with all of their abilities and needs, is what challenges us, but also motivates us as leaders. Our role is to find a way to communicate God’s love to each child. It may start with talking to the parent. The first words we say cannot be, “What’s wrong with this child”, but rather, “We are so glad to have him/her in our group. What does he/she like to do?”
Since each child is created in such a unique and special way, it’s good to hand each parent a little “Get to Know Me” questionnaire at the beginning of the year. Keep it brief, but ask questions like: What does your child enjoy doing? What strengths do you see? Are there areas that your child struggles with? This is also a good time to have parents note any food allergies, etc.
For the child with obvious disabilities, Barb Newman suggests a “Getting To Know Me” sheet with the appropriate questions, such as, What CAN the child do? How does the child take in information? What movements can the child do? (The complete sheet is available in the book).
Barb suggests many examples of practical ways to substitute activities according to children’s abilities and disabilities. There are too many to mention here. But keep in mind simple things such as: a child that cannot speak may enjoy pointing to items or pictures; a child in a wheelchair can wave a streamer or flag; a child who cannot sing can shake a small (soft) shaker; provide a calm, simpler, and less stimulating environment to a child with ADHD, etc.
I’m not implying that getting to know each child is easy. It takes effort. But I believe this is our mission. I encourage you to become a student of each child in your group, and do your best to learn about the solutions to any obstacles you face. Continually ask how we can communicate God’s love and encourage each child’s participation.
You, God, created the deepest parts of my being.
You put me together inside my mother’s body.
How you made me is amazing and wonderful.
I praise you for that.
What you have done is wonderful.
I know that very well. (Psalm 139: 13,14)
In addition, here is a great Activity to try:
"You Are a Miracle" Video
- Digital Video Camera
- Song "Little Miracle" (Mary Rice Hopkins; www.maryricehopkins.com)
Take video of your children involved in play center activities at the beginning of your session today. Make sure that you capture each child on tape for about the same length of time. Later, play the video (with the volume turned off) along with the song “Little Miracle.” Talk about how each child is created special by God’s design. *You may find it more convenient to make the videotape a week in advance.
(From Story Hour Year 1, Unit 1, Session 2)