Karen Sunderhaft: Expert Tips on Teaching Kids With ADHD (Part Two)


Nationally recognized educator, author and ADHD expert Karen Sunderhaft is sharing teaching tips this week for ministry leaders and volunteers serving kids with ADHD. Today, we’ll focus on tips for pastors and ministry leaders.

C4EC: What are some helpful hints you’d share with children’s pastors or youth pastors for effectively communicating to kids who have ADHD when they’re teaching in a large group setting?

Karen: My first suggestion is to involve children in the teaching and learning process. No one really learns something just by listening. As a teacher, I often remind myself that to be more effective I need to NOT be “The Sage on the Stage, but rather the Guide on the Side”. Standing up and lecturing to a group is not as effective as talking a little and then giving a task to the group to help them engage in the learning process.

Perhaps setting up a play about a passage or a story and allowing members of the group to play a part or to offer feedback, such as a picture or a discussion allows the message to penetrate more effectively.  Even the latest brain research has a formula for how much time should be spent listening and how much time should be spent processing information. By processing information I mean “using it” in a way that allows a learner to move from just listening to something to truly understanding it.

First, much of what is learned cannot be processed consciously; it happens too fast. Second, in order to create new meaning, we need internal time. Meaning is always generated from within, not externally.  Third, after each new learning experience, we need time for the learning to “imprint”.  Harvard studies suggest that cramming more content per minute virtually guarantees that little will be learned or retained.  In fact it leads to more time re-teaching.

  • Change the activity to allow movement if possible. 12-15 minutes is how long a teenager can pay attention to a single activity. (Adults are 30 minutes)
  • 5-7 minutes of direct instruction for grades K-2
  • 8-12 minutes for grades 3-7
  • 12-15 minutes for grades 8-12

Some ideas for processing include the following…

  • Group work – Make a poster or build something together
  • Reflection – verbally to a peer or in a journal
  • Individual work or project
  • Drawing
  • Summarize and review

C4EC: What suggestions would you share with pastors or church leaders who want to design ministry environments where kids with ADHD will have great experiences? Lighting, sound, use of color, room  decorations? What’s the right balance between fun and engaging  vs. too much stimulation for kids with ADHD?

Karen: I love the church I belong to. Holy Angels in Bainbridge, Ohio has plenty of windows and natural light. The pews are comfortable, without the kneelers and the room is large with four big seating sections. There is a small water feature in the center that is soothing, but otherwise there are simple decorations year round and only a few extra plants and decorations for holidays. The homilies, which takes the Bible teachings and relate it to everyday experiences is beautifully done week after week.  Father Dan always seems to start with a witty or profound story that allows each one of us to see how it relates to our own lives. In the middle of his homily he refers back to the Bible teachings and clearly states the message that we need to take away with us for the following week. Finally he ends with another story or pertinent joke, or an example of God’s words working in our church.

The best part of course is the rockin’ music that goes along with the terrific, meaningful homilies.  There are three masses to choose from….8:00, 10:00 and 12:00 on Sunday. We always have music, but at the 10:00 mass, the little children leave during the main homily and are taken downstairs to the nursery, for their own special homily or story. Before they leave the room, they are encouraged to run up the aisle to the priest so that he can bless them and their teachers during this short time.  It allows their little legs (kids as young as 3 and as old as 1st grade) to move and for them to either draw or color while listening to a story downstairs, where they can be a bit louder. Sitting still for an hour is very hard for a child with ADHD, but knowing that there is a break during that whole time, for both parents and children, helps to make the mass more enjoyable for everyone. If your child is too young or afraid to leave you, then I would come with a bag of tricks.

Karen will finish on Sunday with teaching strategies for parents of kids with ADHD. For more info on Karen, click here.

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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1 Response to Karen Sunderhaft: Expert Tips on Teaching Kids With ADHD (Part Two)

  1. Pingback: The Children’s Ministry Blog Patrol (October 2010) | Dad in the Middle

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