This post is part of our Launching Special Needs Ministry series. Join us for the journey!
How do you create a safe and loving environment for each child to learn about Jesus?
Do you build a Buddy System? Or do you create a Self-Contained Classroom?
What is the difference? Which one is better? How do you decide?
Here is our answer: it depends!
I know, I know, that is not the answer you were looking for. Let me elaborate.
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The route you choose depends on the child and his/her needs.
Let’s look at the differences and talk about how to decide which one is best for your situation.
The Buddy System
In this model, we pair 2 volunteers with each child with special needs to be their “buddies.”
The volunteers rotate each week (we will talk more about scheduling in a future post) so the child knows they can always expect to see Noah or Esther. Consistency is essential for all kiddos!
The buddies go with the child to their age appropriate classroom with their peers and help the child engage in the activities. When the child needs less help, the volunteer steps back and observes. When the child needs more 1-on-1 focus, the volunteer is ready to jump in.
This is ideal because the child is included with their peers. The other children are able to learn about accepting children of all abilities (more on this in a future post!).
This room generally has a lower ratio of participants to volunteers than the typical children’s ministry setting. We use this setup for children with more severe needs.
This classroom will follow the age appropriate curriculum. However, we adapt the teaching style, visuals, activities, crafts, etc., so children of all abilities are able to participate and learn.
Finding the Best Fit
Let’s go back to our original question: which one is better?
Although the buddy system is the most inclusive model, that isn’t always the best model for all children.
Start by asking the parent (after all, they are the expert on their child!). Learn about what classroom setting they have at school. Then explain both models, and ask which one seems to be the best fit for their child.
We often try the buddy system with our kiddos for a few weeks. We do our best to make any accommodations that we can to make the child successful. We may adapt the schedule, give the child extra breaks, use visuals, provide fidgets, etc.
We have learned there are some children (generally, the ones with more severe needs) who benefit more from a self-contained classroom. They often learn more in this setting, too.
Each child is different, so remember to be flexible. Be willing to accommodate each child’s strengths and weakness.
The key is to create a safe and loving environment for each child to learn about Jesus.