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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Every Child Welcome" (Katie Wetherbee and Jolene Philo)

TITLE: Every Child Welcome: A Ministry Handbook for Including Kids with Special Needs
AUTHOR: Katie Wetherbee and Jolene Philo
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2015, (176 pages).

Jesus welcomes every child. He says it clearly in Matthew 19:14 to let the little children come to him. We are not to hinder them in any way. While it is easy for us to say that we all love children, it is far easier to love children who are lovable, adorable, and downright cute! What about those who are not? What about children with special needs such as "preexisting physical conditions, mental illness, or behavior issues?" Not so easy now. This is particularly so for parents of such children. Overcoming the initial challenge is not the only thing. It is trying to care for these kids every day, every moment, and every emergency. Authors Katie Wetherbee and Jolene Philo were former public school teachers, with special education backgrounds, and have been practitioners in the area of working with children with special needs. They are also parents of such children. Philo's son, Allen had a "life-threatening esophageal birth anomaly" at birth, followed by six surgeries, PTSD, and others. Wetherbee's daughter, Annie, suffered a stroke that left her unable to speak. Only after much care and therapies that she had managed to regain some strength and ability to speak. The authors met each other at a seminar for special needs children. Their common interest enabled their friendship to blossom and this book is a product of that shared interest and excitement to encourage "quality teaching."

The book can be used as a planning tool that helps one to prepare programs suitable for special needs children; a cookbook of recipes for teaching activities; a menu of options of ideas, lessons, and background information; plus specialized information for specific situations. Packed with time-tested methods and plans, the book is a buffet of exciting ideas that can be used straight out of the book. There are simple prayers about how to welcome children; prepare fellow workers; guide parents; and encourage the children. There are activities that  are easy to prepare and extremely practical to implement. The big challenge of course is the execution part of it. With care, the authors point out the innate need of such children to be affirmed, understood, and receive compassion. That is what the title of the book is about: Welcoming every child and making every child feels welcome. It begins with a welcoming heart. I appreciate the emphasis on teaching biblical truths, which make the book equally useful for Church Educators or other Christian communities having childcare facilities; Sunday Schools; Summer School; and other programs. The suggestions for the various activities do not just stop there. Wetherbee and Philo even list down specific items that we can easily get from the neighbourhood dollar shops or department stores. Every chapter oozes with ideas and actitivities.

Now, readers may be wondering, what are the kinds of special needs children? Surely there are too many to list? The sample ministry statement show us that not knowing the specifics does not necessarily render us helpless. We can start from a general perspective and adapt accordingly. I appreciate the two-fold mission statement:
  1. To help our church become a place where children with special needs and their families are welcomed and included as full participants in the life of the church. 
  2. To help children with special needs know, love and share the Lord.
What special needs are we talking about? It could be physical facilities that may not have adequate considerations for the physically impaired or places with convenient washrooms or toilets. It could be learning how to adapt common popular curriculum. It could also be learning how to include rest times and quiet zones. It could be children with sensitive noses or allergies which calls for a scent-free environment. Even the choice of resources need to be examined. Should one go paper or electronic? What about those who cannot see? What about communications? Are there library resources for children to use? There are even suggestions for reading, especially for those with reading disabilities. Those with dyslexia need a boost of self-esteem. Educators can teach them to memorize Bible verses by heart or guiding them with phrases that they would enjoy filling in themselves. One can also use choral reading or use products like audio-visual resources to aid the teaching. One also needs to be sensitive to the colours perceived by individual children. for example, white glaring pages can be discomforting for some.

It really takes someone experienced in special needs children in order to write such an important book. While there are many Sunday School and kids' material on the Internet, there are very few that address the needs of special needs children and educators. It is a specialized area of training. Thankfully, this book has been written to enable more people to understand the nuances and the planning needed to make every child feel welcome. Perhaps, in learning how to deal with special needs individuals, we may begin to realize how much we have taken our own physical abilities for granted. We may complain less. We may even see things from a more humble perspective. The biggest value in reading this book is that when we try to make every child feel welcome, we learn to treat others with greater care and dignity.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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