Donor Profile: Bob and Trudy Van Wieren

Van Wieren imageBob and Trudy Van Wieren have spent most of their lives in Christian schools, since they met as first graders at Highland Christian School in Highland, Indiana.  Over that long history, they have witnessed the transformation that inclusive education has brought to Christian schools, making them passionate advocates for CLC Network’s mission of creating inclusive communities.

As young students, Bob and Trudy recall a common lack of understanding for people with disabilities.  Kids with disabilities weren’t part of the community, and often didn’t attend church or school with other students.  Trudy and Bob contrast that with the experiences of their own grandchildren, who are attending inclusive schools.

“Our kids and grandchildren will never say they are afraid of those who have different needs,” shares Trudy.  “I’m not even sure those differences are even in their vocabulary.  Their friendships with students in special education are simply matter-of-fact.”

Bob and Trudy moved to Byron Center, Michigan in 1985 for Bob’s position as principal at Byron Center Christian School.  One of his first tasks was to start a special education program at the school, so he met with the Christian Learning Center to learn how to do it.

Trudy and Bob give credit CLC Network’s executive director, R.H. “Bear” Berends, for launching fully inclusive programs at area Christian Schools. “His legacy is really incredible.  When he started talking about all of our children being part of the covenant, about belonging to all of us, that really made sense to me,” recalls Bob.  “The school community never really balked at the idea, it just felt like this is the way the Kingdom is supposed to be.

Bob has worked at Christian Schools International (CSI), Calvin Christian Schools, and today serves as Accreditation Program Director for CSI.  He often travels the country visiting Christian schools on behalf of CSI.

“Many Christian schools are realizing that they should include kids with disabilities, but they just don’t know how,” Bob shares.  “Sharing CLC Network’s help is really important right now.”

As current Board President, Bob devotes a significant amount of time to guiding CLC Network’s future.  He’s excited to see CLC Network grow to serve schools across the country and to meet those community’s needs.

Trudy recalls learning about a family who had to send their daughter far away to become part of a community, when students with those same disabilities were getting on the bus in their home communities with her own kids.  Trudy and Bob ask, “Why wouldn’t you want your children to see all of us as part of God’s Kingdom?


To encourage our online friends to give, a generous donor will TRIPLE your online gift through the end of 2013. Give now to help us offer our services at a reduced rate to schools and churches across the country.

Putting a Smile on God’s Face!

I often get asked, as the Executive Director of CLC Network, why Christian schools, mainly from the Reformed tradition, have Inclusive Education missions.

Now before I begin to answer that, let me please state very clearly ALL that you really need to know (in a nut-shell) about establishing student specific support services for students with moderate to significant disabilities
in any Christian school (known as “Inclusion” in educational circles).

The answer to this question must come from our deeply held theological tradition here at CLC Network!

Practicalities (the how to’s and what if’s) by necessity flow out of our beliefs and convictions, but they only represent earthly realities that we have  to figure out due to life in a “fallen world”. God sent us His Spirit to help us figure “IT” out (whatever “IT” is). That is why we all believe in the educated mind, and also why schools tend to hire CLC Network to help guide them through those practicalities.

So here it is – are you ready?!?


In all seriousness though, there is really only one good answer that I can come up with to the question, “Why have an Inclusive Education mission in your Christian school?”

Let me be so bold as to submit that it’s because “it puts a smile on God’s face!” That’s it in a nut-shell as far as I’m concerned!!!!!!!!!
 However to be a bit more specific:

First – In terms of Reformed Theology our Christian Schools are dedicated to the “Lordship of Jesus Christ” as reflected in the body of believers and outlined in I Corinthians 12. Our brand of Christian Education is responsible to that witness, and in order to do that well we need ALL God’s kids front and center!

Second – Christian Education from a Reformed perspective is “covenantal” by its very nature. Following the example of the covenant between God and Abraham in Genesis 17, the congregation of believers in the Reformed tradition takes responsibility (with the parents) for raising a child in the Christian faith (which includes a commitment to Christian education). With this in mind, how can we exclude a child (regardless of their learning differences), who is already in? It’s probably not a good idea from a practical point of view to mess with the Creator’s intention here.

Third – If our job in the Reformed tradition is to proclaim the “Sovereignty of God”,  (that all things are under His rule) then how much better to do that than to show that everyone belongs and is counted on to contribute whatever gifts God has given them! The question (and answer) really centers around “reciprocity” – not just what WE can do for students with moderate and significant disabilities, but what THEY can
do for us
(i.e. – in service to the Kingdom).

Fourth – If a big part of our mission within Christian Education is to teach “discernment” (12 Affirmations – Vryhoff et. al. – 1989), then how do we do that in isolation if part of God’s Kingdom (i.e. persons with disabilities) is segregated from our daily reality? In order to teach true discernment we need to reflect the full and complete Kingdom Of God.

And what better representation of that fact than when “all God’s kids” are educated together!?! So let’s get moving Kingdom-dwellers; let’s all together put a “smile on God’s face”!

So there you go – now you get it too, right?!?

Does your school want to include students with all levels of ability? Learn more about inclusion on our website and apply for a FREE “Inclusive Education Starter Kit” for your school.

R.H. "Bear" BerendsR.H. “Bear” Berends has been the Executive Director of CLC Network (formerly Christian Learning Center) for 33 years. He has a Secondary Teaching Certificate from Calvin College and a Masters in Cognitive Impairment from Michigan State University.

Focusing on the Students

Jan Damsteegt-DeJong is a special education teacher at a CLC Network partner school, Borculo Christian School, where she believes her role as an educator is to “make every child a learner.”  Recently, she worked at a non-CLC affiliated school before moving back to a CLC Network partner school.  Mrs. DeJong volunteered to share her experiences with us.   Click the image below or this link to watch the short video.

Video Clip of Jan DeJong

Does this video resonate with you? If you would like to learn more about how we can walk alongside your school to discover the learner inside every student – contact us at 616.855.3103 or visit our website at

Christmas Gifts that Promote Child Development

How does one select a good gift for a child or young adult with a disability? While toy stores abound with choices, what might be the best one?


Photo Credit: SimplyPanda –

First, it’s important to remember the child’s interests and joys. While the child may need practice in fine motor skills, embedding that task in a topic or activity the child LOVES to do might have a greater impact on the child. For example, a child who loves trains may be much more likely to use a particular coloring book if it’s focused on Thomas the Tank Engine. A child who enjoys music may want to practice finger strengthening to songs and fingerplays with motions and movements.

Secondly, don’t automatically assume technology is the best choice. While that is certainly a great tool, a child’s hands will grow stronger by squishing play dough than by moving a computer mouse. A child will best learn language and social skills by playing an actual game of Candyland or Connect 4 at the kitchen table as opposed to downloading it on the computer.

Also, check with the staff at the school your child attends. Are there activities or toys that work well with the child in that environment? They may have some great and specific suggestions for you.

Finally, there are always two parts to giving a child a new item. First, the child opens the gift, and second there is some kind of training or teaching that occurs to allow the child to use the gift. So often we put something in the hands of a child and expect the child to automatically know how to use it. Plan to have a time to work and play with the child using the toy or activity together. After all, time spent together is always the best gift a child can receive! Use the new gift as an excuse to do that together.

So, get a picture of the child’s gift and interest areas as well as areas of need in your head and see if any of these suggestions might fit the general principals mentioned above…

 Fine Motor: 


Photo Credit: Wickenden –

–  Great stocking stuffers might be vibrating pens, playdough or clay, new crayons or pencils, craft items (like beads for stringing), dot paints, Wikki Stix, pipe cleaners, or craft kits appropriate to the child’s level.

–   Larger items could include pegboards, building blocks, Lego kits, puzzles, items for sorting, Lite Brite, finger cymbals, Operation, Tiddlywinks, Barrel of Monkeys, and toys with switches or push button activation.

–   For older children, consider actual toolbox or cooking kits that allow individuals to measure, mix, stir, hammer, sprinkle, or knead.

–   Apps like DoodleBuddy allow kids at any age to write, paint, draw, and stamp on colorful backgrounds.

Reading Development:

–   For children who are beginning readers, check out patterned books like Goodnight Moon and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Patterns allow children to predict and soon “read along” with you.

–   To increase language development as well as rhyming skills, try books that are songs such as The Wheels on the Bus, Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, and Old MacDonald, which encourage participation. Nursery Rhyme books and Dr. Seuss teach rhyming. Some children may also enjoy recordings of favorite books or books featuring an area of interest.

–   Refrigerator letter magnets are very helpful for children! Using them on a cookie sheet works well too.

–   Magna Doodles are wonderful ways to practice words and drawings.

–   Apps like Read2Go and GoRead highlight narrated words. ReadingRocket has a great list of comprehension apps to check out.

–   For more capable readers, MadLibs, Balderdash, Banana-Grams and a subscription to an age-appropriate magazine may be a terrific choice.

Math Development:

Family Board Game

Photo credit: FamilyTravelCK –

–   Counting games abound. Here are some favorites: Hi Ho Cheerio, Chutes and Ladders, Yahtzee, Racko, Uno, Playing cards for Crazy 8s and War, Connect 4, Rummikub, Dominoes, Life, Monopoly, or any other game requiring counting and moving.  Match the math required to the skill level of the child.

–   Consider real life math applications such as measuring tools, a calculator, a bank account to begin managing money, clocks or watches, and personal calendars and planners.

–    Apps like Yodel-Oh! Math Mountain and Dragon Box provide fun games, while also developing math skills.

Language (Speech) Development:

–    Stocking stuffers might include bubbles, special straws, or a gift card for really thick shakes at a local fast food restaurant.

–    CDs and DVDs that require movement allow children to sing and move to a children’s worship or music group can be a great way to learn new words while getting some movement at the same time.

–    Puppets and stuffed animals are also a great way to encourage language skills.

–    Consider a gift of a “field trip” to someplace special so that you can talk about it before you go, talk while you are there, and look at the photos you took while visiting and talk about it when you get home.

–    Think about a digital camera so that the child can take pictures of many special items and then organize the pictures in books to show and tell to others.

–    A microphone or karaoke machine also encourages speech.

–    Outburst, Catchphrase, and Apples to Apples are terrific games to encourage speech and language development.

Gross Motor Development:

Dress Up

Photo Credit: Phil41Dean –

–   Balls, jump ropes, walking stilt cups, a spooner-board, dress-up clothes (with fasteners to practice snapping, zipping, and buttons), indoor golf or hockey games, ring toss games, punching  bags, toss and catch games, a mini-trampoline, scooter, indoor exercise bike, treadmill or Wii Fit are all wonderful ideas.

Other Resources to Explore:

–  Marbles – The Brain Store has some wonderful games, software, puzzles, books and more for developing critical thinking, memory, coordination, visual perception and word skills.

–  Our friend, Noah’s Dad put together a list of Fisher-Price toys to help a baby with Down syndrome develop.

–  Be sure to check out the comprehensive eBook from Friendship Circle on great toys for children with special needs.


This list was compiled by your friends at CLC Network, a faith-based, non-profit organization dedicated to the development of people with all levels of abilities to live as active, integrated members of their communities. If you found these ideas helpful, check out our Holiday Guide for Supporting Persons with Disabilities and a fun activity for sharing the birth of Jesus with friends with disabilities. 

Sharing the Christmas Story with Kids with Disabilities

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of Christmas, make time to share the true meaning of Christmas with your children.  It’s easy for children to quickly confuse Santa and Jesus. Help them understand that the Jesus birthday story is real. Some Christmas stories are just for fun, but Jesus really had a birthday. We hope the below activities will help you share and celebrate the birth of our Savior with children of all levels of ability this season and throughout the year.

Nativity Scene

Photo Credit: Jeff Weese,

  • Use figures you display in your home or environment. Let them understand that the manger scene on your mantle is actually parts of the important Christmas story.
  • Children LOVE birthdays and they typically understand how special it is – use this concept to relate their birthday to Jesus’ birthday by throwing a birthday party for Jesus.
    • Tell the story of his birthday (compare to the story of your child’s birthday).
    • Show the visitors in the hospital from your photo albums (Grandma and Grandpa, aunts and uncles, etc.) and compare to the visitors at Jesus’ birth (shepherds, animals, maybe the inn keeper – this is where you can use your manger scene figures).
    • Make a birthday cake (see below) and then sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Jesus.
    • Jesus has His own special birthday songs just for him – sing Christmas songs special to your child.
    • Think of a gift you could get Jesus for His birthday. (Perhaps this is a card that says ‘I love you’, a special ornament to hang on the tree each Christmas, a picture of the child decorated in a frame because that child is so special to Jesus, etc).

A Birthday Cake for Jesus

Jesus birthday cake

One variation of the Jesus birthday cake from the Happy Home Fairy:

Here is a “recipe” for a birthday cake for Jesus. Depending on the developmental level of the child, you may just want to have the same cake you would have on any of your family member’s birthdays. This special cake may take on more meaning as the child gets older. (Other great examples of this can be found from Mary Rice Hopkins and Keepers Ministry.)

Use your favorite cake recipe to make this multi-layer cake.

  • The bottom layer of the cake is brown for our sins.
  • The middle layer is red for Jesus’ blood which was shed for our sins.
  • The top layer is green for life. We have new life in our heart if we accept Him as our Lord.
  • The frosting is white which stands for Jesus’ purity & righteousness.
  • Make a gold star in the middle of the cake top with frosting. This represents the Star of Bethlehem which led the wise men to Jesus. (Make a star with six points to represent the Star of David, the Jewish nation in which Jesus was born.)
  • Place a big red candle in the middle of the Star of David – this symbolizes Jesus.
  • Light the red candle in the middle and have kids light small candles from the red candle and stick them in the cake. Let our lights shine before men!
  • Then sing Happy Birthday to Jesus!!

Not sure how to talk to your friend with special needs about Jesus? This post has some ideas and activities for sharing Jesus with a child with Down Syndrome that might be helpful. Our friend Jolene Philo recently shared on her blog, Different Dream, some creative ways to teach kids with special needs about salvation.

You might also find The Christmas Book from Friendship Ministries and Max Lucado’s The Crippled Lamb helpful as you talk with your child or Sunday school class about the true meaning of Christmas.

 How about you? Are there any activities you’ve used to share the story of Jesus with your children, class, or church group? We’d love to hear!

Barbara J. Newman photo

Barbara J. Newman is a church and school consultant for CLC Network and a special education teacher at Zeeland Christian School. She is the author of numerous books, including her latest Nuts and Bolts of Inclusive Education. She is a frequent national speaker at educational conferences and churches. Check out Barbara’s guide for supporting persons with disabilities through the holidays.