Welcoming Children of All Abilities

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The following resource was created to support users of the DWELL children's ministry curriculum, but the content, written by Barbara Newman, director of church services for All Belong, is helpful regardless of which curriculum you use.

How do we who work in children’s ministry best prepare to receive each child? When one child has an IQ of 140 and another an IQ of 40, one child is a social butterfly and another seems to avoid social contact, one child delights in loud noises and another covers her ears from the pain, how do we ensure a place of belonging for each child in the mix? How do we equip our volunteers?

In some ways, it may be easier to recruit volunteers, choose materials, and set up meeting spaces when the children in church ministries are thought of like the contents of a can of Pringles. Neatly stacked, easily contained, all shaped and formed exactly alike—one size could fit all within this paradigm. 

Our creative God, however, clearly has a different vision. Children are wonderfully diverse. They differ in size, personality, interests, strengths, and challenges. God’s children combine to make a group that looks far more like the contents of a bag of trail mix than a tube of Pringles. 

With that in mind, this resource will offer two sets of suggestions. The first will follow the example of architects and educators in thinking about the concept of Universal Design for children’s ministry. The second set of ideas may be helpful as you think about specific individuals in your group who may have differing abilities and need additional supports to be successful in your setting. 

Universal Design for Children’s Ministry

Today’s architects design buildings with the expectation that people of all abilities will need to access the building. They know the elevator will be used by the person who is a wheelchair user as well as people who choose the elevator instead of climbing the steps. This idea of universal design for the physical building includes many features such as braille plaques, curb cutouts, sounds associated with each passing floor on the elevator, and bathrooms built for all kinds of building visitors. In general, 100% of the people who visit will benefit from these built-in options. 

Many educators have also picked up on the idea of universal design, focusing on the area of learning. They build lessons with many options, recognizing that some students will write a report while others will give a speech or make a visual presentation. 

Architects and educators expect from the beginning of the project that people of all abilities will be part of the environment. It’s far easier to make this type of plan from the beginning of the project or lesson than to retrofit a building with an elevator or add in an idea for students of differing abilities later in the session. 

With universal design as our model, what preparation steps and options can we plant within our children’s ministries, recognizing that God creates children with great variation? Check out some ideas to get you started here: Universal Design for Children’s Ministry.

Check out Welcoming Children of All Abilities on the Dwell website to read the rest of this resource, which includes helpful suggestions for supporting children with specific disabilities.

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