Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Communicating in ways that the child can do

Some churches set up their Sunday School and Vacation Bible School programs to mimic the grade levels of our public school system. Rigidly (legalistically?) adhering to these invisible dividing lines can create a negative situation for an older child with developmental delays.

I had what I thought was a brilliant creative idea after I saw how negative attending Vacation Bible School with peers more developmentally mature was for my princess over the summer. I had an a-ha moment! Let's move her to the class where she can better interact with peers and at the same time, process the lessons. Developmentally, she's interacting and reciprocating and processing information somewhere between pre-school and kindergarten age, although by grade she's a 5th grader. She could even be a helper (active participant!) in one of the preK/K classes!

For some reason that I do not understand, some churches have a problem with this idea. Some church folk think I've lost my mind for suggesting it and can't imagine that it was a well-thought-through idea with some solid reasoning behind it.

Wednesday, on the yahoo group devoted to discussing Dr James D MacDonald's Communicating Partners program, "Dr Jim" typed these words that supports and illustrates my perspective:

"We are trained to think that more of anything is better, when the truth for our children is that the only more that is important is MORE OF YOU AND ANY PERSON WHO WILL ACT AND COMMUNICATE IN WAYS THE CHILD CAN DO."

He continued:

"One more response to what you said about restrictive environments and inclusion. Certainly we want boundaries or restrictions for a child's developmental stages... you want restriction on his curriculum so he isn't fruitlessly taught things he is not ready for. Similarly you do not want an inclusive program if it means the child is overwhelmed by faster, louder and more advanced students or with courses they are not ready for."

My princess has spent many years in situations that are developmentally over her head. What is wrong with my wanting, finally, now that we know better, to intentionally put her in situations where interaction and comprehension is not so much anxiety-producing work for her?

She's making discoveries about herself and others that prek/k-ers are making. She's making self-to-text and text-to-self connections at that level. I'm so encouraged by her progress! Let's give her more practice by finding more developmentally appropriate opportunities for her to make more discoveries and connections! Apparently, my opinion is in the minority.

I do like the idea of a one-room schoolhouse, too, with all ages and stages represented. One-room schoolhouses or childrens ministries are hard to come by these days.

Interestingly, we learned through another family about an area church that is already allowing older children who have developmental delays to attend classes for much younger children, because the younger class is a better fit for the child. They have flexible dividing lines that separate classes for children. What a brilliant idea!

PS: Why is it acceptable to move the church choir rehearsals from the basement to the main level when one choir member becomes handicapped and can no longer use the stairs, moving a physical dividing line for her, but moving the grade level lines of division between classes for children is not? The stairs are a barrier to active participation for an individual unable to navigate them, just like invisible grade level dividing lines are a barrier to active participation for a child who is unable to navigate the communication at grade level.


walking said...

This phenomenon drives me crazy! Schools are set up based on the models of factories and behaviorism, which are ungodly concepts, when you reflect that God puts a priority on personhood and relationships. I love my church and I think they are wonderful compassionate people. But, even they would think I had lost a few marbles if I suggested such a concept as a one-room school house for VBS or Sunday School! LOL!

Daniel "Captain" Kirk said...


Our church only offers Sunday School for children 6 and under. The idea is that children learn more in the company of all ages, including adults, than in the exclusive company of children their own age. Even those six and under are in the majority of the service—they only go to a separate room during the sermon and have an age-appropriate lesson. Sunday School is not mandatory for this group. Some young children sit through the entire service with their parents.

Our son is 12, but developmentally about 5. He is allowed to go to Sunday School. He is also allowed to be an acolyte, something only 10 and up are allowed to do. I posted about it here:

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