Understanding Preschoolers with Special Needs

Special Needs child

He springs into the Mission Friends room and floats through the interest areas, not able to decide what he wants to do. He is fidgety and moves to the next activity before finishing the current one. He cannot seem to be able to wait for his turn. He pounds his feet throughout Group Time. He bursts out with a question that has nothing to do with the mission story you are in the middle of telling. You constantly feel like you are calling his name to ask him to listen.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is diagnosed for preschoolers as young as four years old. All preschoolers display some of the characteristics above at one time or another, and it does not mean they have ADHD. The child with ADHD has been diagnosed through a series of tests and interviews. As preschool teachers at church, you may have a preschooler who has been diagnosed with the disorder. How do you handle the challenges of teaching the preschooler who has ADHD?

  • Pray regularly for the preschooler and parents. Pray that God would give you insight into the best ways of teaching the preschooler so he knows that people at church love him.

  • Communicate with the parents. Ask what teaching methods have been effective with their preschooler. Communicate positive characteristics of their preschooler as well as negative aspects.

  • Consider the learning environment. Are the walls a soothing color? Is there too much in the classroom? Remove old teaching pictures and items that could be distracting.

  • Have a quiet area in the room where the preschooler can settle down when disruptive. He could read a book or put together a puzzle.

  • Think about the preschooler’s interests and learning style. Plan activities in which he would be more likely to be interested. He will stay on task longer if he is interested.

  • Allow for learning in small groups. The interest areas are the perfect way to plan for small-group learning. Preschoolers with ADHD usually do better in small groups of two or three.

  • Incorporate movement activities. Physical activity helps the preschooler with ADHD to expend some energy and focus. Try leading a movement activity before you tell the story at Group Time. Use activities in the interest areas that require physical activity.

  • Make your classroom rules clear and consistent. Give reminders of rules. While being firm, remember to be kind.

  • Give instructions one step at a time.

  • Prepare the preschooler for transitions in your schedule. For example, say to the preschooler, “We’re going to clean up in two minutes and have Group Time.”

  • Seat the preschooler close to a teacher at Group Time.

  • Ask the preschooler to help with tasks to keep him engaged, such as bringing the Bible to your Group Time area or passing out napkins for a tasting activity.

  • Recognize positive behaviors of the preschooler. Notice when he completes a task, shares with another child, builds a great block structure, or helps a friend. 

If you teach a preschooler who has ADHD, the most important thing is to keep calm yourself. You are there to guide the preschooler in learning that God loves me and God loves all people. Though preschoolers with ADHD can have challenging moments, they can also be a joy. The boy in the first paragraph was in my Mission Friends. Even though he promoted from Mission Friends three years ago, he still comes by my Mission Friends classroom nearly every week to give me a hug. It was worth every time I had to call his name.

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