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Participants (Wonderful Welcome)

The Wonderful Welcome program is designed for children in Kindergarten and first grade. You may find it useful to think about the range of developmental norms for this age group. In Nurturing Children and Youth: A Developmental Guidebook ( Boston : Unitarian Universalist Association, 2005), Tracey L. Hurd, Ph.D. writes that five- and six-year-old children are generally able to:

  • Coordinate gross motor skills through sports and games
  • Draw, write, and use tools with beginning skill
  • Think about more than one thing at a time; show the start of logical thinking
  • Enjoy pretend play, but also begin to distinguish fantasy from reality
  • Show interest in facts, numbers, letters, and words
  • Learn rules, authority, and routines; may try to apply rules across different settings, such as using school rules at home
  • Enjoy being correct, may apply rules too broadly or literally
  • Use self as a reference point
  • Learn through social interaction as well as through their individual actions
  • Make rigid and/or binary statements about gender and racial identifications
  • Are receptive to antiracist intervention and multicultural experiences
  • Form first reciprocal friendships
  • Develop increased altruism
  • Are evolving from fascination with stories of wonder to a keen interest in learning and performing the concrete expressions of religion
  • Start developing a sense of belonging to a faith community through the imitation of practices of adults by whom they feel accepted

Hurd offers a variety of strategies that speak to these developmental considerations and may help leaders shape sessions effectively for this age group. Some of these include:

  • Provide outlets for physical activity, room for movement during quiet activities, new physical challenges in games.
  • Include small-motor challenges, such as drawing, writing, painting, or using tools such as scissors.
  • Create and sustain routines to give children a sense of control and opportunities to be "correct."
  • Notice and talk about children's similarities and differences.
  • Present complexities that help push children's thinking beyond simple dualisms; gently challenge children's natural moral rigidities.
  • Provide opportunities for group work and group problem-solving.
  • Respect children's desire to categorize.
  • Support children in their beginning friendships to help them build an emotional base for future relationships.
  • Welcome the whole child and respect the child as an individual, a member of the religious education group, and a member of the faith community.
  • Provide encouragement and love.

Integrating All Participants

A group can include children with a range of physical and cognitive abilities and learning styles, food allergies, and other sensitivities or limitations. Adapt activities or use alternate activities to ensure that every session is inclusive of all participants. In Wonderful Welcome, some activities suggest specific adaptations under the heading "Including All Participants." For example, for an activity in which participants are invited to make a life-size self portrait you will find an adaptation for the whole group to fully include a child who uses a wheel chair. Feel free to devise your own adaptations to meet any special needs you perceive. As the leader, you will know best how to provide a fully inclusive learning experience for the group.

As you plan your Wonderful Welcome sessions, be aware of activities that might pose difficulties for children who are differently abled. All spaces, indoor and outdoor, should be accessible to everyone in the group. Check the width of doorways and aisles, the height of tables, and the terrain of outdoor landscapes. Find out about participants' medical conditions and allergies, particularly to food, and make appropriate adaptations. Let your understanding of the different learning styles in the group guide your selection of activities for each session.

A helpful resource book for inclusion in a religious education setting is Welcoming Children with Special Needs : A Guidebook for Faith Communities by Sally Patton ( Boston : Unitarian Universalist Association, 2004). Patton explains how working to integrate all participants helps us practice our own faith:

Ministering to children with differences helps us be more creative in our ministry to all children and reaffirm our beliefs. Lessons of compassion, caring, and acceptance benefit us all, young and old alike... We deepen our faith when we embrace and fight for the vision of an inclusive community.

Patton continues:

(We) ... have much to learn from these people about compassion and forgiveness, persistence and courage, and most importantly, the wholeness of their spirit and the gifts they offer if we allow them to flourish. Listening to children's stories encourages us to see each child's uniqueness rather than their limitations... Parenting, loving, befriending, and ministering to children with special needs changes people. How we handle the change will either mire us in the prevalent belief system about disability and limitations, or it will set us free and alter our ideas about who we are and why we are here.

Patton's book provides inspiration and strategies for congregations to institutionalize an inclusive faith community and internalize a spirit of justice. Consider reading this book and sharing it with congregational leadership.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Wednesday, May 9, 2012.

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