At church, I generally work toward inclusion in Sunday school – making sure that the needs of kids with disabilities and learning differences are met in classrooms, alongside their typically developing peers. But sometimes families decide that a Sunday school classroom isn’t the best place for their kid. These kids might have medical needs that keep them home or in a hospital, or their parents might have decided that Sunday mornings are not a battle they are willing to fight after spending the week struggling in school.
Let’s assume you’ve talked with the parents to see if there are ways you can make your program welcoming, but they’ve assured you that Sunday school just isn’t something they want to pursue right now. In keeping with our series about ministering to kids with special needs, how can you, as a Christian educator, include these kids?
Put their name on your roster
This is incredibly easy. On its own, it doesn’t seem like much. Maybe you will never see them in the classroom, but keeping their name on the list reminds you that they are a part of your community.
Encourage congregational connection
Parents of kids with special needs deeply want for their kid to be accepted and loved in their faith community. So talk to the parents, and listen to their dreams. If Sunday school isn’t a priority – and there are many reasons it might not be – where is one place where they could see their kid included in the life of your congregation? Maybe attending intergenerational church events, where the kid can stay near their parents, is a better fit. Maybe their kid likes listening to the music in worship; maybe they’d like to help out behind-the-scenes; maybe they can spend a day at camp. Who could you connect this family with so their kid can participate in other aspects of your church?
Do faith formation in their space
If Sunday school is a challenging space, then arrange a time to introduce yourself to the kid where they are comfortable. If possible, pair this up with a chance to share a faith-forming activity.
Could you listen to music and pray quietly with a nonverbal kid?
Could you stop by an inquisitive kids’ house to read a book together and talk about God?
Could you light a candle and color a Bible story coloring sheet quietly with a shy child?
Imagine what this sort of one-on-one time, even just once or twice a year, could mean to a kid who gets overwhelmed in a crowded classroom.
Share resources with the family
Pass along leaflets from your Sunday school lesson, or extra supplies for making the week’s craft. Gift the family with the story Bible that their classmates use. Share a few of your favorite titles of age-appropriate books that deal with themes you are covering in class.
Whatever you choose, keep it simple. Remember that the goal here is not to give the family a bunch of homework, it’s to stay connected.
Having a kid with atypical abilities can be isolating for kids and parents. We can respect families when they decide to take a break from Sunday school while still including their children in our educational mission. While we may not have the opportunity to take these kids through our whole Sunday school curriculum, we still have the responsibility to stay connected and encourage the child’s faith formation.