Harmony Hensley: Welcoming Ministry Environments for Kids With ADHD (Part Two)

This is the seventeenth post in our Fall Series: ADHD and Spiritual Development: Strategies for Parents and Church Leaders

Harmony Hensley, Pastor and Director of Outreach and Inclusion Ministries at the Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati, OH., presents Part Two of her guest post on the topic of creating welcoming ministry environments for kids with ADHD. Click here for Part One of her discussion. Today, Harmony discusses use of wall color, wall decor and signage in environments for kids with ADHD, along with thoughts for churches contemplating a new construction project or renovation.

Wall Color: Often when decorating a kid’s space, whether it’s your child’s room or a classroom we tend to go overboard.  We paint murals, and cover the walls with the brightest of colors.  Though our intentions are good this may not be the best thing for all the kids we serve.  For kids with ADHD or autism, for example, this can create a very distracting and overstimulating space.

So you’re probably thinking “does she want me to just paint the space boring beige?”  Not at all!  You can absolutely still use color, in fact I recommend it!  But rather than going with the more primary, saturated colors (like fire engine red, big bird yellow, and kelly green) consider a more muted, jewel tone pallet.

Confused yet?  I know.  There is such a thing as “color theory” and you are looking for a color that has a neutral base.  Many of the folks at your local paint store can help you find what I’m talking about but let me show you an example.

Primary Color Palette:

Jewel Tone Palette:

The color swatches in the links should help to illustrate what I am talking about.  The primary colors are fairly common in terms of kids stuff (think story books, textiles, cartoons, etc.).  However the jewel tones still complements those colors, but they are a bit deeper and easier on the eyes to look at.  Color theory is something that has fascinated me my entire life (I literally used to boycott certain cartoons as a kid because I felt their color palette was off.  I know Dr. Steve can probably help me with some of my issues!) but I understand that it can be overwhelming for some folks.  Try to think of it this way.  When I walk into the room do I find the colors a bit jarring?  Or does it feel like a cozy place to relax and unwind?

Wall Décor: Be selective about what you put on the walls.  If we fill every last inch of the wall with visual clutter we make it further difficult for our kids to concentrate on the lesson or programming at hand.  Many churches, particularly youth ministry programs, are designing their large area gathering spaces similar to a theater.  In a theater the goal is to direct your attention to the screen.  Where do you want to focus the kid’s attention during the hour they are with you?  If there is a focal point in the room (say where the teacher sits, or where the youth worship band is) design the room to focus kid’s attention to that area of the room.

I have seen some churches paint the ceilings black (bringing the eye down), and side walls a deeper jeweled tone (still bringing color, but not a mural that demands attention), and then puts the focus on the front of the room with the colorful banner that reinforces the teaching element for that series (Noah’s Ark, or David & Goliath, etc.).  These simple things really do impact how a child interacts for that hour and can maximize the impact of your programming.  Similar practices are used in the main auditorium where you enjoy your Sunday worship.

Signage: Don’t you hate it when you go somewhere and you can’t figure out where you’re going?  Me too!  Walk through your space as though you’ve never been there before.  Would it be easy to navigate if you were new?  What if you can’t read?  Would you be able to see where you need to go?  Probably not!  Many of the kids we serve are visually cognitive; they think and experience the world through pictures.  Imagine not knowing what is going to happen next and there isn’t anything to signal you what to expect or where to go.  That would be very frustrating and not welcoming at all.  Consider adapting your signage using software such as Boardmaker or Writing with Symbols.  This is software that is largely used in therapies and will make a world of difference in adapting your environment to be fully inclusive.  You likely have a special education teacher or parent in your congregation who has access to this software.  See if they would be willing to help you create signage for your space.  If you don’t have access to this software you can use clip art.  It’s not as universally recognized but will certainly do the trick!  Also consider placing signage at a height that is relevant to the kids you are serving.  For instance, you wouldn’t want all the signs for 4 year olds to be at a 4 foot level.  Put some down at their eye level so they can self-direct as much as possible.

The CLOCK – Don’t forget the CLOCK!!!: The clock isn’t just for your volunteers anymore!  Many of the kids we serve will do much better during the hour if they can see a clock.  Kids with issues are often painfully aware of time and have a lot of anxiety if they don’t know what time it is and when they will transition to the next activity.  A clock is one simple thing that sets them up for success.  I remember one Sunday we had a child who was new and very anxious about this new environment she was in with all these strangers.  We quickly understood that she was counting the minutes until her Mom would return to get her.  One of the volunteers actually went to a storage closet and found an old wall clock.  They put fresh batteries in it and gave it to the little girl.  They explained that when the big hand got to the 6 her Mom would be back.  She held the clock and almost immediately relaxed.  Sometimes it’s the simple things that show God’s love to kids with hidden disabilities.

New Construction?: Many of the things I’ve mentioned above are things you can do to retro a space to be more inclusive.  As churches grow often expansion, renovation, or even new construction occur.  If this is the case for you – FANTASTIC!  A growing church is a wonderful thing – it means people are hearing the gospel and lives are being changed!  But as we create space for more people to experience God be sure we are dreaming about an inclusive space where all of God’s people can be welcomed into the kingdom.  Invite people who have experience working with kids with hidden disabilities into the design process.  This can greatly impact the way that your building takes shape.  If your church is embarking on a construction adventure and you’d like some ideas on ways to make your space inviting for kids with hidden disabilities please feel free to contact us.

Here’s a photo gallery from Cincinnati Vineyard’s Student Union (middle and high school ministry) Open House from 2008:

Clear as mud? Hopefully I haven’t thoroughly confused you.  Creating a welcoming
environment is easy, it just takes a thoughtful eye and a willingness to make changes but the reward is priceless.  So as you digest all these tips just think of how you want your kiddos to interact on Sunday mornings.  Do you want them to come in and immediately get charged up and overstimulated, making for a very busy, very active environment?  Or, would you like them to come in and feel like they can make themselves at home, relax and engage with the amazing activities and lessons you have before them?  I’m guessing you’re hoping for the latter!  Try to think of your classroom as an extension of your home.  What would you do to make people feel welcome?  Try some of these great tips and watch as the behaviors of not only your kids with issues, but the “typical” kids shifts as well.  You’ll find the kids will be calmer and behaviors will be reduced.  Have fun with it and tell us what works for you!

Sunday: Dr. Grcevich returns to summarize the key points of the series on strategies for parents and church leaders for promoting spiritual development in kids with ADHD.

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.
This entry was posted in ADHD, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Ministry Environments, Spiritual Development and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Harmony Hensley: Welcoming Ministry Environments for Kids With ADHD (Part Two)

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

  2. Pingback: Good Finds! Special Needs Space Design Tips « The Inclusive Church

  3. Kenny says:

    What a great post. I just discovered this blog and I’m simply amazed. I’m going to feature it soon on my site. As a Children’s Pastor, I’ve recognized that a lot of us just don’t know what to do when it comes to kids with “issues” as you say. Knowledge is power and this site is providing a great deal of knowledge. Thank you!

    This post in particular was very helpful. We’re in the process of remodeling our kids space. Unfortunatley, we’ve already finished our elementary kids church (and it’s pretty bright… but it is simple). However, we may take into account some of the stuff written here as we redo our younger kids space.

    Thanks for writing!


    • drgrcevich says:


      Thanks for your kind words! We appreciate your help as a leader in the children’s ministry community in getting the word out about our willingness to help churches reach out to families who very much need what the local church has to offer.


  4. Pingback: How to Design a Kid’s Worship Service | Home

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