“To a Mouse” by Robert Burns
Our church offers a children’s program, AWANA, on Sunday nights and Ana truly enjoys attending. However, her behavior keeps her from participating in most of it. For the past year a volunteer with the church’s special needs program has been her aide and all has gone mostly well. Unfortunately, the aide’s son has his own special needs and she can no longer leave him alone to help Ana, putting us back at square one.
I will interject that the AWANA curriculum is great for typically developing (TD) kids, but not so hot when one puts on their special ed glasses. Each evening is broken down into three activities (each lasting about twenty minutes): lesson, games, Bible verse memorization and recitation. Kids are in classes based on grade and by gender in the upper elementary grades.
AWANA always begins with everyone (three years old through fifth grade) together in a large room. In our church that is usually about 75 kids. They hear announcements, sing a few songs, learn a silly dance, award winners (for verse memorization) are announced and then they are dismissed to rotate through the three areas.
The time frame for the entire night is one hour and 45 minutes.
Problems Ana encounters:
1) There are WAAAAAAY too many transitions for such a short amount of time. We’re talking five transitions!
2) The games are in a gym with about thirty to forty 8-11 year olds (sensory overload big time) and are not disability friendly so Ana can’t play. She has to sit to the side and watch while being bombarded with kids screaming and running in a small gym with no windows.
3) The curriculum is very abstract and assumes that kids have been immersed in Scripture since birth. Not only does this exclude kids new to church, but it also excludes kids with learning differences or delays.
4) There is a LOT of unstructured time. This does not work so well with a lot of kids – not just Ana.
5) The more Ana acts like a goof the more kids stare at her. The volunteers are not trained in special ed and have no idea how to handle social situations with a special needs kid.
Now that you understand the limitations to AWANA, I’ll admit that it is a great way for churches to reach elementary age kids and engage them in fun Christian studies.
As long as you’re TD.
So, knowing the reality of AWANA and wanting Ana to be successful I spent all Sunday afternoon adapting her lesson, putting her Bible memory verse on the iPad and working up a successful behavior management plan. She has a new assistant working with her (from her school so she is not NEW new) and I wanted everything to be in place so that Ana could have a great night.
We pumped her up about how awesome she was going to do. She was excited because she was going to totally nail her Bible verse. She even chose her reward for good behavior.
Then we left the house.
It started falling apart in the car. For whatever reason Ana started talking about going to Daddy’s house. I tried to shut her down but to no avail. Next came the screaming. I told her if she was going to be loud she couldn’t stay at AWANA. That did nothing but further tick her off.
I couldn’t turn around and go home because Drew was in the car and I had to drop him off. When we got to church I told her she had one more chance to stay at AWANA. That was met with screaming, kicking, and threats to hurt her siblings. It got so bad I had to restrain her in front of all of her peers and she still managed to get in a good head-butt.
To say the least we went home.
I dropped her off with my husband to deal with her. I HAD to take a break. She continued the fit.
When I came home later with Drew after AWANA I was met at the door by Ana who told me her step-dad hit her in the head. Not like a little hit, but banged her head against the desk. Obviously, I asked him what happened.
He explained that she was mid-fit and while trying to restrain her (because she was trying to kick a hole in the wall) she threw her body back and hit her head on the bed frame.
That is Ana. She always blames others for the consequences of her choices. We are crossing our fingers, saying prayers and hoping and wishing that CPS doesn’t come knocking because of these type accusations. Thankfully, everyone at school knows Ana and knows to take what she says with a LARGE grain of salt.
As for AWANA, we will try again next week.