Pursuing Church School Success: a Handful of Resources for Welcoming Students with Special Needs and Handicaps

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. In each post, we will share some tips for classroom management and/or ideas for increased student participation. What we share is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination: there are many more ideas available. It is our hope that what we proffer can act as a starting point toward enhancing the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. 

Every student who steps into our classroom is unique, and has needs that are individual to them. It is a great challenge for a teacher to teach such a great variety of individuals and lead them together through a lesson or learning time. It is a challenge, yes, but it is also a great honor and blessing.

From time to time, God gives a teacher the gift of a student whose needs are so unique that the teacher has the opportunity to seek new ways to teach. The student may have physical limitations, social struggles, or mental challenges that require special accommodations in a classroom setting. At first, it may be tempting for the teacher to greet those challenges with fear or dread, simply because they are new and different. However, it is our duty as Christians to love our fellow humans so much that we will help them in any way that we can. It is our honor as servants of God to extend mercy as completely as we are able. And it is our job as teachers to rise above our hesitance and learn all that we can about our students’ needs, then make the necessary adjustments in our classroom space, our teaching style, and our expectations of our students. When we take the time and effort to do so, we will not only do a better job of welcoming our students, but we will also be better able to receive from them the gifts that God intends to bestow.

In this series on pursuing Church school success, we would be remiss to not share a few resources that help Sunday Church school teachers to prepare to meet the needs of their students with handicaps or other special needs. We have encountered a few materials that can help teachers to teach such students. There are so many different kinds of handicaps and special needs that we will neither be able to include all of them, nor thoroughly address any of them. However, we will share a handful of assets which we thought may be of help to the community in this regard. We will begin by sharing general resources as well as some which focus on physical challenges and limitations. It is our hope that these will be a helpful starting place for us all as we seek to better love and help our students with extraordinary challenges.

May the Lord have mercy on us and on our students, as we learn how to learn together!


Here are some links that you may find helpful as you work with students with special needs and/or handicaps. Do you have any related resources that you would recommend to the community? Please share them below!


This article may be a decade old, but the thoughts it contains and the questions that follow would be a valuable basis of a discussion amongst any group of Sunday Church school workers who desire to better welcome students of all abilities and needs. https://www.oca.org/parish-ministry/parishdevelopment/disability-and-communion


Summer Kinard’s book, “Of Such is the Kingdom: A Practical Theology of Disability” is a wonderful Orthodox resource that helps parishioners to embrace each other, whatever their challenges may be. If you have not yet read it, we encourage you to do so, as it will bolster your love for Christ by helping you to better value and love everyone around you. We wrote about this book here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2019/10/25/gleanings-from-a-book-of-such-is-the-kingdom-a-practical-theology-of-disability-by-summer-kinnard/


Summer Kinard’s website offers so many resources (many listed here: https://summerkinard.com/special-needs-resources/). Check out her free month of hands-on Sunday Church school lessons (which offers a glimpse into a teaching style that reaches a variety of needs of the students in your class) here: https://summerkinard.com/2019/08/11/free-month-of-hands-on-Sunday-school-curriculum/


Those among us who “thought we had the advantages in life… find that on a spiritual level we can be severely disabled compared to our brothers and sisters who lack those intellectual giftings, but whose spiritual life can be marked by abilities and giftings we never suspected.” Read this perspective in this reflection on what the scriptures have to say about those in our midst with special needs: https://www.bethinking.org/human-life/a-biblical-view-of-disability


“Church, we have a great opportunity to show love! The need is great. Kids are hurting. Adults are too. Families are struggling. The first step in being able to help is understanding the need. Jesus met people where they were, and so can we.” So concludes this presentation of the findings of one study on disability and the church. Read the findings here: https://church4everychild.org/2016/02/09/what-are-the-stats-on-disability-and-church/#_edn1


This webinar can be a helpful starting point for Sunday Church school teachers and/or parishes desiring to better embrace the parishioners in their midst who face disabilities and other special needs:



Check out this list of resources: https://www.goarch.org/-/families-of-children-with-special-needs-resource-list


This article offers suggestions of ways to make a church building more accessible for those with physical challenges. The article is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but many of the accessibility suggestions can be helpful as we plan (or alter) our physical space, to make it more accomodating. https://churchesbydaniels.com/four-ways-accommodate-special-needs-church-design/


Something as seemingly innocuous as food can be very dangerous to someone who is allergic to certain ingredients. Summer Kinard’s free printable is a quick and easy way for parish members to communicate what is in the foods that they bring, so that people with allergies can be aware as they choose what to eat at coffee hour or in the Sunday school hall. It is so important that we take steps like this to show every member that their parish cares enough about them to ensure their safety. https://summerkinard.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/allergen-check-list-free-printable.pdf


In Russia and Greece, parishes are including their deaf members by signing the liturgy. It is beautiful to behold, as evidenced in the video clips found here. https://orthocath.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/orthodox-christians-who-are-deaf-and-blind/

In addition to Byzantine music, you will find some liturgical texts in braille at this page: http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/music/BrailleByzantineMusic.html#Links


In this article, a mom of a child with a genetic skin disorder expresses her wishes with regard to what happens when other children notice her daughter and her challenges. She says, “What I wish you would do? I wish you would leave this conversation with your children open to me and my family, so it could become with us, instead of about us…When your child points and tells you to look, I wish you would respond clearly, ‘Yes, look at that sweet little girl. It looks like she’s having so much fun playing, just like you are!’” Read the article in its entirety here: https://community.today.com/parentingteam/post/dear-parents-what-i-wish-you-would-do-when-your-child-comments-on-my-daughters-special-needs


Here are helpful tips for those in our community who do not have a child with a disability, for awareness: https://www.facebook.com/ellenstumbowriter/videos/371339980392324/


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