Awana is a program that is designed to come alongside churches and parents to help develop spiritually strong children. During each weekly meeting kids memorize and recite verses and God’s Word in planted in their hearts. In addition to this, the kids participate in a game time and enjoy a small snack. The peals of laughter coming from the game square, the joy of enjoying a simple snack and the look of intense concentration as they recite their memorized verses are things that every parent dreams of for their child. Parents of children who have cognitive or behavioral special needs would love to have their child included and able to participate in Awana, but they are often not invited to participate. That said, there are a number of benefits both to the special needs child and the other children to inviting these kids to participate in Awana. They include:
- Children with cognitive and behavioral special needs often lack the appropriate social skills that are needed to negotiate the world around them. When they are able to participate with children developing in a more typical fashion, they are able to learn and master appropriate social skills. In turn children without special needs benefit by interacting with and helping the child with special needs do their verses, learn the rules of a game or by just playing and having fun.
- While children with these special needs may not be able to recite their verses perfectly, they are able to hide Jesus in their hearts. As there leaders and teachers, this is something that the Bible calls us to help them with. Awana handbooks can be modified to fit a particular child’s ability (one year I had a child with bipolar disorder who could not memorize her verses. I modified the requirements for her. As long as she could explain to me what a verse meant, she was able to pass to the next section). The emphasis is not on the perfection of reciting a verses but on understanding the verses.
- Children crave acceptance. The Awana program is a place where a child can be accepted as himself and develop friendships with other typically developing children in a safe atmosphere. As adults we have the responsibility of modeling acceptance of children and adults who are different from ourselves.
- It is simple, they want to have fun too!
Working with children with special needs may have it’s challenges but when you see the happiness in the child’s eyes and the gratitude from their parents it is all worth it! What is your church doing to help kids with special needs join program like Awana? What benefits have you seen in kids and leaders in having special needs kids in these programs?