Six Tips for an Inclusive Christmas Program

Six Tips for an inclusive Christmas programIt’s Christmas time, and that means many of you are getting ready to plan your church Christmas program. So, how can you create an inclusive Christmas program for your students? How can you ensure that each child will fully participate in the joy of celebrating Jesus’ birth? I would like to share with you six helpful hints as you begin to plan your program.

1. Remember the Purpose

It’s easy to become so engrossed with the program, that we forget why we are doing it. Individuals with a disability may find it helpful to reread the Christmas story, to learn about it in a way that matters to them, and connect the story with what is happening during the actual Christmas program. Remembering the purpose can be helpful for the people planning it as well!

2. Offer a Preview

Christmas playBy offering a preview of what will happen in the program, individuals with a disability can know what to anticipate, which will allow them to feel more prepared.

You can offer a preview using pictures, words, or both. You can do this with a photo album, a PowerPoint, or story? It is helpful, however, to only put a sequence of events on your preview, and to keep it broad. That way, if something goes wrong, the child is less likely to know and become upset. This leads us to our next helpful hint…

3. Have a Plan B

We know that in any event, no matter how much we have planned, there is bound to be something that will not go as planned. So, it’s important for you to have a plan B. Discuss the different scenarios that might occur while the individual is participating, and, together, come up with a solution.

4. Think of their Physical and Emotional Needs

Be sure to think through the individual's sensory needs, such as spotlights, sound volume, and access to the front of the sanctuary.

Be sure to think through the individual’s sensory needs, such as spotlights, sound volume, and access to the front of the sanctuary.

Make sure you think through and anticipate any of the physical or emotional needs of the individual. A child may find it helpful to have cue cards held up during the program, or an aid/buddy to help guide him throughout the event. Sensory issues should be thought through as well, such as spotlights, sound volume, and access to the front of the sanctuary.

5. Structure, Structure, Structure

Creating structure for your friendwill ease a lot of anxiety for both of you. For example, write the child’s name on a piece of tape so he knows where to sit or stand. Practice with and without other people in the room. Record the songs or dialogue so that it can be practiced at home ahead of time. Lastly, have a chair available with the child’s name taped onto it when she doesn’t need to stand.

6. Dealing with Anxiety

If a child is truly anxious, provide a part that can be video taped ahead of time and then played in the program later. Also, include some friends in the taping so as to not single out the child or adult with a disability.

Additional resources:

Autism and Your Church by Barbara J. Newman

Supporting Persons with Disabilities through the Holidays

 

photo credit: hubertk via photopin cc

photo credit: hubertk via photopin cc

JJacki Sikkema photoacki Sikkema has a background in Special Education and currently serves in the Church Services Division at CLC Network.

Supporting Persons with Disabilities through the Holidays

A guide for parents, grandparents, and friends to use while supporting persons with disabilities through this season of celebration and change.

Note: Because this blog post was such a helpful resource for many individuals last holiday season, we wanted to share it with you again as you walk through the next few weeks of holiday festivities.

Brothers at ChristmasWhile the holidays often bring up those Hallmark memories for many of us, for some children and adults with disabilities, holidays signal an intense time of stress and distress. Often communicated with significant behavior changes, the underlying message might be “I’m overwhelmed”, “You changed my schedule”, “Why did you put a tree in our living room”, “There are too many people stuffed into this room”, or “I am on complete sensory overload”. While all of these ideas won’t work for everyone, here are some ideas for you to try to create a positive time of celebration for each family member.

1. Who needs to know? Many times extended families get together, and yet cousins or friends may not really understand the individual with the disability. It might be helpful for parents or the person with the disability to send out a quick update to family members prior to an event.  This update could include:

    •  “How Brent has grown this year”
    • “Activities and topics Brent enjoys doing or discussing”
    • “Activities and topics to avoid with Brent”
    • “Some things that Brent may really enjoy when we gather for Christmas”
    • “Some things that might be challenging for Brent at our Christmas celebration”
    • “Some gifts Brent might enjoy receiving”
    • “Some gifts to avoid”

      Christmas cookies

      Photo credit: chadmagiera http://flic.kr/p/5N2cD8

2.   “It is better to give than to receive” – and many times we think our family member with a disability should only be the recipient of gifts, and not the giver. How can that person use an area of interest or gifting to provide something for others? Would it be the gift of a dance or song? Could that individual provide the cookies for dessert? Might that person enjoy a trip to a dollar store to pick out something for each guest or family member? What about a wall decoration or a note card for each guest with a favorite picture of an animal or area of interest? Find a way for that individual to also receive the joy of giving.

3.   Prepare in advance a way your family member can participate in the holiday traditions. Be creative. Think of ways you have made the holiday meaningful and consider ways your family member with a disability may be involved. Some ideas you could try include:

Do you collect prayer requests or notes indicating things for which each family member is thankful to incorporate into the celebration? How might that family member participate? Would it be helpful to have pictures of familiar items so that the individual can point to or pick up the prayer request and hand it to the one praying?

How about singing? Could you have a colorful streamer or small rhythm instrument available so that a person without words could participate with movement?

How about programming a portion of Luke 2 on an iPad or other device so that pushing a button will allow an individual to read a portion of the Bible? Adding figures or using the manger scene on the mantel may be a way for an individual to better understand or even help move or tell the Christmas story.

Christmas scrapbook page

Create a Christmas album! Photo Credit: Dolce_Evita

4.   Use photos. Find some pictures of the celebration from last year. If it will be similar, put together a photo album or story of that event so that the individual can remember it in pictures and written words prior to attending a similar event this year.

5.   Put together a schedule of events for your party. Whether in words and/or pictures, let the person know the planned order. Some individuals enjoy crossing off or removing the individual schedule items as they are completed.

6.   Visit the room ahead of time. Many times we redecorate or rearrange rooms to fit more people. Consider setting it up a day ahead and visiting that room without people in it. Let the individual explore the changes without the added stress of people. Perhaps leave something on a chair or in a certain place so that you can “reserve a spot” for the event when you arrive. The individual will know to find that space or item to make a more comfortable entry.

Child photographer

Photo Credit: Threelfbybike

7.   Give that individual a “job” to do. Perhaps they could be the photographer, back massager, coffee or beverage server, greeter (be the first to arrive and assimilate guests more slowly – often a better choice for some persons), or card distributer. Many times, a helping role will not only use the gifts of an individual, but it gives the person a clear sense of what to do in that environment.

8.   Designate a “safe zone”. It might be helpful to show that family member a quiet and designated space in the home or building where there would be a calming and preferred activity. It might be a mini tramp, rocking chair, a favorite book, or quiet classical music in a more isolated space where one might be able to find a refuge if the senses get overloaded.

 

Some other posts you might like:

Christmas Gifts that Promote Child Development

Sharing the Christmas Story with Kids with Disabilities

Sharing Jesus with a Child with Down Syndrome 

 

photo credit: jeffsmallwood via photopin cc

 

Barbara J. Newman photoBarbara J. Newman is a church and school consultant at CLC Network and a special education teacher at Zeeland Christian School. She is the author of numerous books. She is a frequent national speaker at educational conferences and churches.

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?

Presents

Photo Credit: SimplyPanda – http://flic.kr/p/dDTHjD

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: 

Playdough

Photo Credit: Wickenden – http://flic.kr/p/3pEGRY

–  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 – http://flic.kr/p/bQwKik

–   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 – http://flic.kr/p/dmL3bF

–   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.

papercutouts

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, http://flic.kr/p/7kM1p3

  • 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: http://ow.ly/rw51a

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.

Tips for Celebrating the Holidays – Part 1

A holiday guide for parents, grandparents, and friends to use while supporting persons with disabilities through this season of celebration and change.

While the holidays often bring up those Hallmark memories for many of us, for some children and adults with disabilities, holidays signal an intense time of stress and distress. Often communicated with significant behavior changes, the underlying message might be “I’m overwhelmed”, “You changed my schedule”, “Why did you put a tree in our living room”, “There are too many people stuffed into this room”, or “I am on complete sensory overload”.

While all of these ideas won’t work with all people, here are some strategies for families and friends to try as you create a positive time of celebration for each family member.

  1. Find some pictures of the celebration from last year. If it will be similar, put together a photo album or story of that event so that the individual can remember it in pictures and written words prior to
    Photo Credit: Dolce_Evita

                      Create a photo album!                     Photo Credit: Dolce_Evita,   http://flic.kr/p/8YnyiM

    attending a similar event this year.

  2. Put together a schedule of events for your party. Whether in words and/or pictures, let the person know the planned order. Some individuals enjoy crossing off or removing the individual schedule items as they are completed.
  3. Many times we redecorate or rearrange rooms to fit more people. Consider setting it up a day ahead and visiting that room without people in it. Let the individual explore the changes without the added stress of people. Perhaps leave something on a chair or in a certain place so that you can “reserve a spot” for the event when you arrive. The individual will know to find that space or item to make a more comfortable entry.
  4. Give that individual a “job” to do. Perhaps they could be the photographer, back massager, coffee or beverage server, greeter (be the first to arrive and assimilate guests more slowly – often a better choice for
    Photo Credit: Threelfbybike

    Photo Credit: Threelfbybike, http://flic.kr/p/aTdmo8

    some persons), or card distributer. Many times, a helping role will not only use the gifts of an individual, but it gives the person a clear sense of what to do in that environment.

  5. Designate a “safe zone”. It might be helpful to show that family member a quiet and designated space in the home or building where there would be a calming and preferred activity. It might be a mini tramp, rocking chair, a favorite book, or quiet classical music in a more isolated space where one might be able to find a refuge if the senses get overloaded.
Stay tuned later this week for even more ideas!

Do you have tips you’d like to share? Post them in the comment box below!

Barbara J. Newman photoBarbara 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.