Five Ways to Make ANY Curriculum More Inclusive
Including a child with special needs can present challenges inside a church’s programming. However, by planning ahead and incorporating easy changes into the existing curriculum’s lesson plan, the classroom setting can better include the child with cognitive or physical challenges. The key to making effective adaptations is in understanding the participating students’ strengths and weaknesses. Knowing the children’s ability levels is the starting point for making any curriculum changes.
This is a guest post submitted by Amy Fenton Lee. Read more about this important topic at their blog titled The Inclusive Church. Their articles will help your church be more welcoming to children with autism, ADHD, children with Down Syndrome, and other learning disabilities. She has some great ideas for special needs curriculum and resources.
1. Classroom Size & Teacher Ratio: Adapt size of group, project or activity
Keeping a child engaged is the key to maintaining his attention and managing his behavior. A disinterested child may be lured back into the group when a teacher can ask them a direct question or assign a specific task. Smaller child-to-teacher ratios provide better opportunities for these necessary one-on-one interactions.
In cases where a child with special needs necessitates more dedicated attention, providing a teen or adult buddy may solve any problems. During elementary school and beyond, oftentimes a mature child can be tagged to provide peer assistance. Many typical children have an uncanny ability to help a peer with special needs, both in completing tasks and regulating behavior.
Along the same lines, children with neurological disorders struggle when any hint of chaos emerges in an environment. A calm and orderly classroom helps such a child with his own self-regulation. Too many things going on may produce sensory overload, and may interfere with the child’s ability to learn and remain engaged. Controlling noise and activity level is easier in a smaller group than in a room with many children.
2. Time: Adjust time allotted for activity or task
Very often too much time is allotted for a project. As soon as a child becomes bored or disinterested, the likelihood of wandering and less desirable behavior increases. When children finish an activity too soon, they may become disengaged and initiate self play. For a child who does not self regulate well and needs structure, constructive self play is a struggle. It is better to over-plan and then discover that the children are enjoying a project and need more time than to provide too few structured activities.
While planning ample activities is important, it should be noted that children should not feel rushed. Hurrying children through an activity may frustrate a child who is remaining engaged but taking longer to complete an activity, possibly due to their limitations. For classroom teachers, patience is as important as the planning!
3. Vary Input & Output: Deliver the material to all learning styles: 1) auditory, 2) visual and 3) kinesthetic.
Even typical children differ in the ways they best receive new information. While one child may better process a lesson by observing visual aids, another child may learn by hearing colorful oral illustrations. Similarly many children process concepts by application. Incorporating actions through crafts, gross-motor movement or participation in a drama creates a greater impact on a kinesthetic learner. Environments and programs that utilize music, puppets, creative movement, visual arts (and the list goes on) are more likely to present information in ways that all children can successfully process.
Recognize that some children with special needs may require using sign language, picture symbols and even eye gazes as a part of their communication and feedback. Some churches take a given Bible story and then provide a worksheet of picture symbols for a child to follow as the story is told. Similarly, allowing a child to answer questions and participate by selecting and presenting pictures gives him additional methods for interactive participation. Picture symbols are available through software programs such as Boardmaker as well as on many free websites.
4. Degree of difficulty: Simplify instructions, steps or change rules when necessary
Simply adjusting the instructions or parameters of an activity may make a suggested project feasible for an individual with cognitive or physical challenges. Taking the time to review the lesson plans and then make the needed adjustments is the biggest requirement. For special needs designated classrooms, the planning can apply to the children more corporately, although every child with special needs has unique attributes related to their ability or disability. For typical environments including one or two children with special needs, coaching the volunteer teachers how to spot and make potential curriculum adjustments is important. For many activities the same materials can be used, so long as the activity’s objective or required participation is altered to accommodate a specific child’s ability level. In some cases, pre-cutting or partially assembling a craft project may be the only adjustment necessary!
5. Substitute & Enhance: Provide different or additional material to meet the child’s need
When plans include activities that will predictably fail to engage a child with special needs or limitations, then pull from another resource or provide a different activity for that child. In some cases the entire class may benefit from the substitution or change. Usually, there is no need to completely abandon the starting point and outline that existing curriculum may provide. Instead, invite a special education teacher or pediatric therapist (occupational, physical or speech) to take a quick glance at the church curriculum. Very often, they can identify activities in need of modification, substitution and enhancement. And they can offer incredibly simple suggestions that make the existing material come alive and relate to children with special needs or differing learning styles.
Amy Fenton Lee is passionate about helping churches successfully include children with special needs. Recognizing that special needs accommodation has unique challenges, she has launched a new blog to address common questions from children’s pastors. For more on Amy visit her blog, The Inclusive Church: Helping Churches Successfully Include Children with Special Needs