«Sally Patton UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST ASSOCIATION BOSTON Copyright © 2004 by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. All rights ...»
Activity: A Matter of Perspective Select a dual-perspective picture, and label the top of the picture with one of the images that can be seen. For example, if you are using the old woman/young woman picture, label the top “Old Woman.” Show the picture to the teachers, and ask them what they see. Most likely, all will see the old woman because that is how the picture has been labeled.
Next, show the teachers a dual-perspective picture of another subject that has not been labeled. Again, ask them what they see.
This time, people will probably see either or both of the images in the picture.
Discuss how labeling directed them to look for a particular image in the first picture. Discuss how this can happen to children with disabilities.
66 Welcoming Children Have the teachers describe a child in the religious education program whose behavior is disruptive or difficult. Notice how many negatives the teachers use. Next, have the teachers describe the life of that child—what his or her family is like, what school is like for him or her, whether he or she has many friends. Finally, have each teacher name something he or she likes about the child.
If someone cannot come up with anything, discuss why this is so and what he or she can do to find the positive in this child.
This exercise addresses how our perceptions and expectations shape our behaviors toward all children. The child who does well in school, who is a leader, and who behaves well toward others is constantly reinforced for positive behavior. Moreover, we come to expect that behavior. Conversely, we come to expect bad behavior from children who are labeled as difficult. These children are more easily judged as acting out and more frequently reprimanded. The resulting insecurity leads to more bad behavior. To change this pattern, we need to find each child’s “island of competence” (see page 39) and build on it.
Theme: Developing Empathy and a Welcoming Faith Community An effective way to help people develop empathy for a child with a disability is to have them imagine what it would be like to be that child. The following exercise not only engages the imagination and develops empathy but also identifies what mechanisms and attitudes in the congregation might prevent a child with a disability from feeling welcome.
Activity: Visualization Hand out to each participant one of the descriptions of children with disabilities (see pages 70–74). Give each person a different description until all of the descriptions have been distributed.
Ask each participant to read his or her description and to take a few minutes to imagine being that ten-year-old coming to a new church on Sunday morning. Ask each person to visualize walking 67 Religious Education That Welcomes All Children through a typical Sunday morning experience through the eyes of
that child. Consider the following:
• How is your family greeted? Is someone there to help you and your parents find your religious education room?
• How does your teacher react to you? How do the children react to your disability and to your strange behavior?
• Can you easily participate in the activities that are planned, or are they too complicated or intimidating? Are you confused?
• Do the children talk to you or ignore you? Do you feel like everyone is staring at you, or are they comfortable with your presence?
• Does the teacher pay too much attention to you or not enough? Do you feel included?
• At the end of the session, do you feel like you want to return?
Jot down a few ideas on how you, as this child, would create the best possible religious education experience for yourself.
After everyone has visualized this experience and jotted down some suggestions on how the church should change, have each person share with the group how it felt to be this child. In addition to creating empathy, hearing about the various types of disabilities should educate teachers about these common conditions. In discussing how the church can be more welcoming to children with disabilities, many participants become very creative in their suggestions. If there is time, redistribute the descriptions and repeat the activity.
Theme: If the Child Is Safe, Everyone Is Safe When a congregation works at making all children feel safe, loved, and trusted, it creates a community in which all adults also feel safe, loved, and trusted. For example, a child will not feel safe if several elders in the congregation are uncomfortable being around children. Understanding what has wounded these elders so that they feel this way and providing healing for them would then become a goal of the faith community.
68 Welcoming Children Activity: Envisioning an Intergenerational Community Have the teachers create an ideal intergenerational faith community that ministers to all. Ask them to imagine what their community would look like if all decisions, programs, and ministries had the purpose of making children feel safe and loved. Invite them to express this vision on construction paper with crayons, paints, or colored pencils.
When the participants have had time to reflect on their vision and express it in images or words, invite them to share it with the
group. Record on newsprint responses to the following questions:
• Who would be involved in the ideal intergenerational faith community?
• What would it look like?
• What would have to happen to make it come true?
• What might be the first steps toward realizing your vision?
Theme: Know Your Own Learning Style Before teachers can teach to children’s different intelligences and preferred ways of learning, they must first understand their own primary intelligences and preferred ways of learning. What they see as their strengths will often be what they depend on in teaching. Sometimes, we are so used to the school model, which relies heavily on lecture and discussion, that we lose sight of our own strengths and preferences.
Activity: Applying Multiple Intelligences Theory Distribute copies of the overview of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory (see pages 47–48), and give teachers a few minutes to become familiar with the eight types of intelligence.
When they are ready, have the teachers talk about which intelligences are most dominant for them and how this might affect their teaching style. Then ask the teachers to identify which intelligences are not their strongest and how this might affect their teaching style.
69 Religious Education That Welcomes All Children Next, give the teachers a theme and have them create a session about it based on their own preferred ways of learning. This can be done in small groups of participants who share the same dominant intelligences. Then ask them to design a session based on an intelligence that they would not ordinarily use.
When one teacher finished teaching after several Sundays, he announced that he would never do it again. Yet after another man finished his first teaching experience, he told the congregation that it had transformed him. Clearly, teaching children is not for everybody, but it may be right for more people than will give it a chance.
One enthusiastic teacher can generate a lot of recruits.
Part of a teacher’s success comes from being well prepared and well supported. Part of a teacher’s enthusiasm comes from the freedom to use his or her imagination and multiple teaching styles. If teacher training accomplishes these goals, it will provide a successful start to serving the needs of all our children.
Child Descriptions A child in a wheelchair You have a spinal injury, such that you have the use of your arms with braces but no use of your legs. Sometimes, you involuntarily jerk forward. You like sports and reading poetry.
“The last church I went to did not have any ramps, so I had to be carried everywhere. It was humiliating. After I was brought upstairs with my chair, I could not move around much because there was furniture everywhere. The teacher was nice and the kids were curious because I was different, which I did not mind. But they had this circle meditation and talk, and all the kids and the teacher sat on pillows on the floor and I had to sit in my chair and look down on everyone. People have a tendency to think I am stupid just because I am in a wheelchair, so the teacher and kids talked to me as if I was three years old. Every time I jerked forward, everyone stopped and stared at me. I wish I had been made to feel more welcome. I hope my experience in the new church is better.”
A child with Down syndrome
You have the obvious physical attributes of a Down syndrome child, and so you know everyone looks at you funny if they do not know you. Sometimes, you cannot follow what is going on, but if someone explains it to you, you feel more comfortable. You like caring for small children and singing.
“The last church I went to did not think I belonged with other kids my age, so they gave me a special tutor that invented activities for me. I missed being with the other kids. I know I look different and some kids think I’m dumb and fat and they make fun of me, but still I’d rather be around other kids. Sometimes, I’m clumsy and too loud, so the teacher and kids get upset, which is why they gave me my own special tutor. I hope in this new church I get to be with kids.”
70A child who has attention-deficit disorder
You have always had a lot of energy and can’t stand to sit still. You like to talk about everything. You know adults think you are often disruptive and uncontrollable, but you don’t understand why everyone gets so upset. Other kids think you’re weird and deliberately trying to be bad. You like to build things and climb trees.
“It was awful at the last church. I got kicked out of the program three times. They kept doing these boring discussion groups, so I invented stuff to do to keep me busy, which is when I got into trouble. Some of the kids liked doing those things with me, and then they got into trouble, too, and couldn’t be friends with me anymore. I don’t understand why this happens, and it makes me so angry. No one understands. I don’t think this new church will be any better. No one ever likes me.”
A child with Asperger’s syndrome (high functioning)
You know you are different, but you don’t know why. You don’t understand people; they’re like alien objects. It makes you very uncomfortable to be touched. You focus on one thing at a time but not for long. You like consistency and get very confused when the rules or plans are changed. You like dinosaurs and know everything about the different species—when they lived and what they ate. You wish they still lived so you could have one as a pet.
“Mommy and Daddy are making me go to another church. I would rather stay home and build dinosaurs or read books about dinosaurs. I don’t understand why the other kids aren’t interested in dinosaurs like I am. The kids annoy me. Anyway, I would much rather play by myself. At the last church, they wouldn’t let me talk about dinosaurs, and they wanted me to hold hands all the time. They were always changing what they were doing each Sunday, and I got terribly confused. Sometimes, it was too much and I got angry. Then they made my parents come and get me. I like to do stuff, though. I hope I can bring my dinosaurs to this new church.”
71A child with a learning disability
Sometimes, you feel like you must be from another planet because when you talk, people look at you as if you are strange and not making any sense. You try so hard to understand, but evidently you don’t because you’re always screwing up. You think you’re creative and intelligent, but you have real difficulty reading the words and doing the math. You’re always inventing things in your head, and you love to draw.
“I hate school! Everyone there thinks I’m dumb, except for my tutor. I have all these special classes, so the kids know I’m stupid. In the regular classes, I get so anxious I’m going to screw up that I almost always have a stomachache. The last church we went to was not much better than school. They kept having the kids read these stories, and everyone knew that the reason I never volunteered to read is because I don’t read very well. The discussions were interesting, but whenever I was asked for my opinion, I would get so scared that I couldn’t say anything. I always had an answer afterward, but then it was too late and they would be talking about something else. I have good ideas, so I hope I can share what is inside of me at the new church.”
72A child with obsessive-compulsive disorder
You and your parents are just beginning to understand the extent of your problem. You know you’re very odd, but you can’t help doing certain things over and over again, like counting every crack in the sidewalk, turning three circles every time you go through a door, and arranging your food all in a line before you can eat it. You know no one else has to do these things, but you have to in order to feel safe.
“My last Sunday school teacher tried to stop me every time I walked into the room and turned three circles. It made me so anxious that I would be in tears. Even when I knew the kids were staring at me, I would have to go out and turn three circles and then come back in and try to turn three circles. The teacher would finally give up in disgust. It would start all over again when we had snack, and I would line up all the crackers in a row. The teacher would try to joke me out of it, but all it did was make the kids notice more what I was doing. They all teased me later. I hated being there. My parents are taking me to a new church, but it won’t be any better. I have to do these things; I have no choice. It will start when we arrive, and my parents will be frustrated because I will have to count the cracks in the sidewalk leading to the church. At least I can do that without too many people noticing. Maybe there will be some kids I already know in this church who already know I’m odd and will just ignore me.”
73A child with blindness