Activity time: 15 minutes
Materials for Activity
- Chairs for all participants, plus one extra chair
- Optional: A welcome mat
Preparation for Activity
- Arrange chairs in a circle-one for each participant, plus one extra. If the group normally sits in a circle on the floor, plan how you will designate an "extra seat" on the floor.
- Take a careful look at your meeting space. Make sure it models accessibility; for example, are paths clear for a child who might use a wheelchair or crutches?
- Optional: Obtain a welcome mat, or make one by writing "Welcome!" on a sheet of newsprint.
- Optional: Visit the UUA website for information on making congregations more accessible. Prepare suggestions to share with the children.
Description of Activity
Gather children in a circle, leaving one empty chair. Ask, "Who is this chair for?" Take responses. Affirm that it could be for anyone who might wish to join our group.
Ask if anyone has attended a Passover Seder. Explain:
A Seder is a meal shared at the Jewish holiday of Passover. Often, families set an empty chair at the table for the prophet Elijah. A chair for Elijah means a chair for anyone, as Elijah is known to come in disguise-like the Hawaiian goddess of fire, Pele-to see if people will welcome him. Some groups set up an empty chair to represent people who are not yet part of the group, but may join them someday. The chair reminds the group to be always welcoming.
Tell the children they will have a chance to imagine who might sit in our empty chair, and how they could welcome that person. Give an example: What if the person did not speak English? Could they make that person feel welcome? What signs would they use to welcome that person?
Now ask, "What if the person could not see very well?" Would they need to welcome them in a different way? How?
Tell them that the congregation spends a lot of time trying to make all the programs at the congregation welcoming and accessible. Ask if anyone can tell you what "accessible" means. Help children understand that accessibility is about making sure everybody can participate-children, youth, elders, people who have different abilities and maybe use a wheelchair or a hearing aid, people who speak different languages, people who have never been to a UU congregation before and might not know what we do here.
Place a welcome mat in the circle. Tell the group you will describe a child who might sit in the chair. Ask children to raise their hand as they think of a sign of welcome they might offer that child. As you call on a child, have them state their idea and ask the group what they think. When the group affirms the idea, invite that child to come to the welcome mat. Help children contribute so different participants generate a few ideas for welcoming each child you describe. It is okay to repeat ideas for welcoming different children-for example, "Greet them" fits any situation. You can also ask children to name things NOT to do-actions and words that would not be welcoming. Aim to have each participant come to the welcome mat at least once.
Use these examples, plus your own. You might invite children to describe different children, too:
- A non-English speaking child
- A child who has just moved to the neighborhood
- A child who is visually impaired
- A child who has never been to a UU congregation before
- A child who uses a wheelchair or crutches
- A child who does not or cannot speak
- A child who misses their parent
- A child who you recognize because they are also new at your school
To conclude, say, in your own words:
Some of the children we described are said to have "special needs," but sometimes we all have special needs: If I am in a new place and feeling scared or lonely, I need to be welcomed in a different way than if I am familiar with this place and all of you. We are welcoming when we do not make assumptions about what a person can do, likes to do, or what they need. If an activity called for cutting out shapes from paper, what would be the best thing to do to be welcoming to a child who does not see well: Cut it out for them, or ask if they need any help? [Take responses. Affirm that it is best to ask if help is needed and what that help might be, instead of assuming help is needed and/or doing something a person might not want us to do.]
Making our congregation accessible and knowing respectful ways to welcome different people here are two important ways to be welcoming. These are ways we can be UU every day.
Including All Participants
If the group includes a child with a disability or one who belongs to a minority or historically marginalized group, do not describe their attributes or limitations as part of the game or call the child out in any way during the activity.