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Sometimes, we must concede that someone else can just say it better than we can. This blog is one of those cases. I’d like to share my blog space here with my long-time friend and colleague Mara Springer. Mara has spent her professional life teaching and advocating for students with special needs as part of Lutheran Association for Special Education in St. Louis, Missouri. Like many Lutheran special educators, her mission is about helping students who struggle to learn and grow in their academic pursuits while also having the opportunity to hear about Jesus on a daily basis in the Christian environment of a Lutheran school. Mara’s blog reminds us that reading isn’t a skill that’s confined to the classroom. If reading is a struggle in the classroom, it’s also a struggle in other settings, such as worship. I pray that the Lord will use Mara’s insights to help us to think about how we deliver that precious Gospel message.
In Search of Mom’s Magic Reading Finger
By Mara Springer
I have a very specific memory from my childhood. It is from when I was quite small, maybe four or five years old, sitting next to my mom in church. This was back in the olden days when the liturgy options were pages 5 or 15, so I already knew the singing parts of that by heart. I remember holding my mom’s hand and making her ring sparkle in the lights. I also remember my mom opening the hymnal to the hymns and pointing to the words as she sang. I would listen to her and sing as many words as I could right after she did. I also watched as she pointed to each word. I knew I was faking it, but I hoped other people would think that I could read like my older brother. Then, one Sunday, it happened! I started recognizing the words. Not all of them, of course, but enough that I felt smart and grown-up. It was amazing. My mom’s finger was magic. It had helped me start reading.
Now I am a mom and a special education teacher in Lutheran schools. I used to love to sit next to students who were newer readers and point—or let them point for me—as we sang the words or read the psalms and other parts of the liturgy. In this modern era of screens and praise bands, however, I don’t get to use my magic reading finger anymore. New readers and readers who struggle can’t get that help. They have to either be really good at memorizing words or hope that someday they will read fast enough to keep up and not lose their place on that faraway screen.
Early readers need time. If pastors, teachers, and congregations could be intentional about slowing the pace at which they read certain parts of the service together (the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, or the Introit), especially in school chapel, younger readers would have the chance to keep up and really read the words. New readers also benefit from repetition. Having a format that is predictable, with words that repeat, helps reinforce what those words look like and the patterns the words and phrases make. While lots of people don’t like the hassle of shuffling papers, there are still some who would benefit from a printed copy of the service and the songs. That doesn’t mean that everyone needs to use the hymnal or a printed copy of the service, but there should be enough available for those who find them beneficial. Many times, what we discover when we make some sort of accommodation or modification for a particular student is that it turns out benefiting others too. For some adults, it’s easier to read up close rather than far away; for those learning English as a new language, being able to follow along in a hymnal or bulletin can be easier as well.
As we seek to make our church services sleek and modern, I pray that we consider the little ones who could still use mom’s magic reading finger to help them.
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