A Castle for Kids This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

March 3, 2008
A Chinese proverb instructs us that “One generation plants the trees; another gets the shade.” We are the children of today who need to make a difference for the children of tomorrow.

A couple of years ago, my teachers nominated me to participate in a program that unites able-bodied students with those who have physical and mental disabilities. Each week, I spent an hour in the classroom assisting children with schoolwork, art projects, games, and everyday activities, including eating. My mother is a teacher, so I am used to helping children; however, I discovered that working with children with special needs would change my life forever.

Each Tuesday I was greeted by the smiling faces of Thomas, Joey, and Missy. Thomas is wheelchair-bound. He communicates with grunts and simple words like yes and no. Joey always welcomed me with a smile and a big hello. Missy was born with inappropriately sized organs and is extremely small for her age. Her voice is muffled by a voice box, but she loves to talk.

In a typical classroom, it would not be uncommon to hear a teacher hush a child who was humming, tapping his pencil, or making unnecessary noises. However, here, screeches, yells, flailing arms, and other noises are encouraged. They are signs of excitement and different ways of communicating. At first I thought it would be scary to be surrounded by children who are so different, yet there is something special about these unique students.

One teacher asked me to do an art project with her young students who are mentally challenged. One of my favorite memories is reading a story about chameleons and how it pays to be different. After the story, I helped the children make clay chameleons. It was rewarding to see the beginning, middle, and end of the process. It felt good to see the children’s smiles. They worked the clay with ease and confidence that did not come as easily when they tried to read or do simple math problems.

Today I still volunteer in the special education program. Recently, I created the “Castle for Kids” project. A classroom with children who have mental challenges inherited a reading loft. The teacher and I thought it would be a fun activity for the children to transform it into a castle. The students helped plan and build the castle. Have you ever seen a six-year-old ­apply joint compound to sheetrock? For two days, a group of high school students and I worked with the students to sheetrock, texture, and paint. The children were builders of a castle! They also built a lifetime of memories – for themselves and me.

Working with special-needs children has changed my life. It has increased my awareness of others’ needs and made me see that I would like to pursue a career working with these children. One of my teachers ­believes we should be part of something bigger than ourselves. I never realized how true this was until I worked with these children. I believe everyone should get out and do something that makes a difference.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

Join the Discussion

This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

writinglikecrazy said...
Aug. 4, 2011 at 7:45 pm

I also work with kids with special needs. Check out my story "Helping kids with special needs:My community service" hope you like it. They need more people like us. Not very many


WritingJulia This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 13, 2010 at 2:24 pm
That's really cool!
i<3steven! said...
Feb. 24, 2010 at 4:10 pm
this is really cool
Site Feedback