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Making Camp Accessible

Making Camp Accessible

Tips for Making Camp Accessible for Special Needs Children

Each year, our church takes elementary-aged students to camp; we take children once during the summer for a week-long adventure and once more during the winter for a weekend experience in the snowy mountains near where we live.

I believe in taking kids to camp.  There’s something about unplugging from the busyness of life and spending intentional time on faith development that I can’t put a price tag on.  I’ve seen the lives of children and families transformed through the ministry that takes place at Christian camp centers.  I have one moment in my own life that I can look back on where I felt like God was whispering to my soul. That moment took place in a quiet prayer chapel at a Christian camp.  For me, that was the beginning of my journey into ministry.  God can start things in the lives of kids at camp that can change the world around them.  I firmly believe in that.

However, going into this year’s winter camp, our team was faced with a dilemma.  Our ministry to special needs children is growing at our church and a handful of those students wanted to attend camp with us this year.  Though we were thrilled at the idea of bringing these children to camp, we knew that good intentions were not going to be enough to create a safe camp experience for these potential campers.

Today, I want to share three essential things you would need to do in order to take special needs kids to camp.  If camp is something you believe in, then it should be something that children with special needs have an option to attend – it just takes some extra work.

Have a Plan

If you have children with special needs in your ministry, you are probably familiar with the idea of Individualized Educational Program (IEP, for short).  As a church, we try to develop an IEP for each child in our ministry who we identify as having a special need.  Our IEPs vary in their formality – if a parent approaches us in hopes of establishing a partnership, the plan we develop will be more involved and specific than the plan we draft for a child whose behavior warrants special attention but whose parents might not be willing to talk about the issue in terms of drafting an IEP.

Because camp is away from home and routines, we require a consultation between the parents of special need campers and our special needs ministry team – children whose parents are not willing to have those conversations are not ready for camp.  Good intentions won’t help you or your camper when you’re dealing with needs you weren’t prepared for.  You won’t be able to coach your volunteers well if you haven’t established a plan for making camp work for your special needs camper – if you want to bring a child to camp with special needs, you need to have a plan.

Think About the Details

Part of having a plan in place is thinking through the details.  I’ll be honest, without the partnership from the camp that we take our kids to, having details and plans in place wouldn’t be something that we could pull off on our own.  If you plan on taking kids to camp, thinking about the details should include:

  • Ask for each day’s schedule from the camp center
  • Bringing ear plugs for children who are sensitive to sound
  • Have a structured plan for special needs children who cannot handle unstructured time
  • Have a plan for the routine of bed time and ask parents about special considerations (bed wetting, sleep walking, night terrors, comfort items, etc.)
  • Make sure the camping site is 100% accessible for your camper

By no means is that an exhaustive list, but it should get your team started when it comes to brainstorming what details you need to have in place for camp to be accessible to all of the children in your ministry.

“No” is always an option

One of the neatest moments in having special needs campers with us this last winter camp came when a mom came to pick up her son at the end of the weekend.  She told me, through tears, how moved she was that we were able to take her son to camp.  He had never stayed the night anywhere away from his family until that weekend.  She went on to tell me that she felt like she could send him with me because I’ve become a part of their family over the years of being the Church together.

With that in mind, I want you to know that there have been times when we had to tell this family, “no.”  We haven’t always been a ministry that could give this young boy full access to all of our events.  During the first years of revamping our VBS, we could not accommodate his needs.  Until this year of camp, he has not had the chance to head up the mountain with our team.  However, those moments of saying “no” and explaining our reasons to this family earned us the ability to one day say “yes”… and mean it.  By always putting her son’s safety and well-being first, we earned the right to finally say “yes” and give her son an experience away from home to connect with his Creator.

And, to save the best news for last, this young boy decided to give his life to Jesus at camp.  Heaven got a little bigger because of the hard work our special needs team put into making camp accessible.  That moment made all of the hard work worth it.

Without a plan, working out the details and only saying yes when we were actually ready to make camp a great experience for our special needs campers, things might not have gone as smoothly as they did.  As those who follow Jesus’ call to “let the children come to [Him]”, we have a great responsibility to provide care for all children – even those with special needs.

If you have anything to add to this conversation, feel free to do so in the comments section.  We look forward to the addition of your thoughts and perspective.

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Posted by on March 16, 2012 in Kidmin


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Kids’ Worship: Where We Are

You’re going to laugh when you see what inspired this series of posts.

But, that’s something I’ll share on Monday.

Today, I want to give you a glimpse into where we’re at with kids’ worship at our church and the impact our shift has made on our camp experience as well as the massive VBS that we run in the summer.

Sunday Mornings: Keeping it Simple

One of the best things about killing off music on Sunday mornings was that it allowed us to rebuild intentionally.  We were able to make singing fun again and slowly begin to shape what worship looked like for our kids because of that.  On a typical Sunday, the music time our kids experience doesn’t look incredibly different from the back of the room than most kids’ program out there.  But, the view I get from up front every weekend is amazing – our kids actually worship Jesus through singing.  It rocks.

A typical Sunday looks like this:

I do a typical welcome from the front of the room, introduce myself and give any quick announcements we might have.  This allows kids to transition from coming into the room to finding a seat and looking forward.  It also gives our small group leaders time to find a seat in the midst of the kids.

We then launch into singing with two fast/fun songs.  One of those songs always has a teaching element to it – whether that’s because it’s a Bible verse set to song, has a theme that ties into the morning, or anything else I can leverage to make that song mean something to the kids.  The other fast song is simply joyful.  We reinforce two ideas with this set up – a) the words to songs matter and b) singing songs at church can be FUN and even feel like a mini rock concert.

We always wrap up our time of worship with a song that our kids might hear if they went to church w/ their parents or if their family listens to CCM around the house.  As an introduction, I always talk about thinking through the words to the song and I’ll teach through any tough words that might be in the lyircs (God of Wonders, for example, is a favorite for our kids… but the word “Tabernacle” means nothing to a second grade girl.  So, I talk through the words we’re about to sing before we sing them).  I’ll tell you something – it took a year of teaching kids that singing songs at church can be fun and that the words to the songs we sing matter before I even started adding a third song to our rotation.

Nothing I just wrote should be revolutionary by any means.  However, being intentional about the songs we sing and the way we made our transition has changed the way our kids worship in song.  Our kids are just as likely to sing along to Fee’s “Glory to God, Forever” when it plays on our Sunday morning mix as they will to “Fireflies” by Owl City (that’s right, Owl City is on our Sunday morning mix… I’d hope you’re not offended by that).  What’s even cooler is the impact this shift has had on worship in other settings.

Leading the pack at VBS

Our VBS is abnormally large.  The picture about is a picture of about 1/5 of the room we host our worship time in.  But, that’s not the point of this aside.  Rather, the atmosphere of worship at VBS has changed dramatically since we overhauled our Sunday morning worship.  VBS at our church was once a place where kids just sang along to songs.  If a kid was engaged in the music, they probably were from a different church in town.  In fact, kids visiting church for the first time at VBS would have assumed that our kids were visitors too – they took no ownership over that time and really only enjoyed the fact that they could be loud in the church’s sanctuary without getting in trouble.

We live in a different reality now.  Half the songs we sing at VBS are songs you’d hear if you visited our church’s modern worship service on a Sunday morning – and our kids LOVE the time they get to spend in worship.  We run one of the most visitor-friendly VBS programs I know of (over half of the 1200 kids and students in attendance this last year have no church home on Sunday mornings), and yet our kids create such a cool environment by singing their hearts out during the song portion of the morning that their friends join right in.

Living it out “up the mountain”

Twice a year, our kids make the trip up the mountain to camp at Forest Home (  I circle back to talking about camp because this is the place where I first got the sense that our kids didn’t understand worshiping God in song.  And, by “got the sense”, I mean to say that our kids napped and cracked jokes during worship the first time I took our kids there 4 years ago.

As you can see in the picture above, our kids aren’t those kids anymore.  Instead, we’re the obnoxious church that jumps up on stage to lead everyone in crazy camp songs.  Our leaders (each cabin has an adult leader, assisted by a high energy high school or college age assistant) struggle to sing louder than our campers.  One of the things I love about Forest Home is that I get a set list of songs they’ll be singing at camp that I can teach our kids before we head up – our kids already have the songs in their heads by the time we get up there so that everything that happens is an expression of their hearts.  For us, what happens at camp is an amplified version of what happens on Sunday mornings – I’m thrilled to say that it’s amplified enthusiasm rather than what was once amplified boredom.

Where we’re heading

I’m excited to say that I’m happy with where we’re at these days in the arena of kids’ worship.  However, I still know we have areas we can grow in.  Monday’s post will talk through my hopes and dreams for the future of kids’ worship at our church.  I’ll actually lead in with a bit of a Fail that recently happened as we continue to try to make our worship experience more interactive and kid-lead.

Here’s a recap of this series so far:

Our Journey” gave some scope to the series:

Karaoke Worship” took a look at where our journey started, with kids totally disengaged by the video worship we were providing:

Nothing is Better than Something” talked through the at-first-unpopular choice we made to stop singing altogether on Sunday mornings:

Starting Simple” talked about the first steps in our process in re-teaching kids how to worship God through singing… and kind of hinted at how Video Curriculum can hurt your ministry if your team isn’t actually facilitating what’s going on in the room:


Posted by on November 20, 2010 in Kidmin


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