Special Buddies Curriculum by Lifeway
Who Benefits: Bible Teaching for Kids Special Buddies or “Special Buddies” is LifeWay’s Bible study curriculum designed for children in grades 1-6 who have intellectual and developmental special needs. However because Special Buddies is not especially juvenile, the material may be suitable in some environments that include youth and adults with intellectual differences.
The curruiculum is highly versatile and could be used in settings that include higher functioning participants and those without identified special needs. When I review curriculum I often approach it through the eyes of my typical elementary-age son. Reading through Special Buddies, I found myself thinking several times “my son would enjoy this activity”. In addition, the material does a good job of reaching students with a wide range of learning styles and communication differences.
Description: Special Buddies curriculum matches up to the Bible stories in LifeWay’s mainline curriculum, Bible Teaching for Kids. However Special Buddies can easily stand alone and is designed with a self-contained special needs environment in mind. The Bible lessons work for large group settings or environments where a single volunteer may be working one-on-one with a student. The curriculum can be used in many denominations. Special Buddies offers a new Bible story every other week, so that leaders have time to present content slowly and use repetition as needed. And because the material offers ample choices for lesson reinforcement, teachers have the option of changing application exercises from one week to the next. Lifeway recommends that churches purchase leader guides for each teacher ($5.25 each) and individual learner guides for each student ($2.95 each). To find this product, go to www.lifeway.com; and put “Special Buddies” in the search bar.
Here’s what I liked best about the curriculum: Children who may struggle in a typical student environment that involves discussion, game-playing, and taking turns may thrive in a setting that follows the Special Buddies lesson plan. Special Buddies activities are sensory based and require very little reading or writing of participating children. Many suggested activities utilize three dimensional manipulatives, simple kinesthetic exercises, and tactile experiences that traditional curriculum often fails to incorporate. For example, Special Buddies may suggest an exercise using a tub filled with sand or dried pasta as part of a learning activity tied to the Bible lesson. Providing activity ideas like this are invaluable to the success of a volunteer who may lack a special education or pediatric therapy background. Special Buddies is written with the built-in modifications already in place that a special education professional might offer to adapt traditional curriculum.
Many activities in the curriculum allow children to give non-verbal responses as a part of their participation (I love this!). Nearly every suggested exercise involves interaction using alternative communication skills. At the same time, the lesson activities do not take anything away from the experience of the child who does prefer verbal communication. In addition, the lessons incorporate simple songs. Because children with special needs often have an inexplicable ability to connect with music and song, the “Sing Along” feature in the curriculum is especially helpful. Special Buddies provides simple lyrics for a teacher to sing to a familiar tune (like “This is the Way We Go to Work”) for each lesson and Bible concept.
Lastly, the pictures and props provided in the lesson are easy to use and effective for concept reinforcement. The suggestions for teacher-provided materials are largely on-hand items requiring little or no extra preparation time or expense.
**Lifeway has just launched a new Ning site to provide an online community for leaders who minister to kids with special needs and their families: http://lifewayextra.ning.com/group/specialbuddiesteachers. Be sure to access the FREE Picture word cards, accessible at the bottom of the landing page for the Ning site. Special Buddies Sample lessons are currently available under “Special Buddies Downloads“. Click on both “LearnerGuideSampleLesson.pdf” options for the complete sample lesson.
April 2011 Update: I have recently previewed Lifeway’s Special Friends Leader Guide for the Big Apple VBS. I LOVED IT! I will be using the Special Friends Leader Guide for my own VBS (I teach a typical classroom of kindergarten-age children at my home church). This curriculum provides excellent ideas for engaging learners of all preferences and differences. In addition, the Special Friends guide provides more activities for reinforcing the daily Bible lesson with an understated emphasis on the secular theme (Big Apple), when compared to Lifeway’s typical VBS curriculum. For more information on Lifeway’s 2011 VBS Special Friends Leader Guide, click here.
Way to Go Lifeway!
– Amy Fenton Lee