by Amy Dolan
It’s no surprise that the way our children learn in today’s context has changed. Our children are more digitally connected than ever before and it’s causing us to re-think the way we teach and the methods we use to encourage the spiritual formation of children in the church.
In the book Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives, authors John Palfrey and URS Gasser write about the key definitions of this generation: A Digital Native is anyone born after 1980 during the increasing accessibility to social digital technologies. A digital native has always lived in a digital world and therefore possesses the skills to utilize technology. For example, digital natives read blogs instead of newspapers, they meet others online before they meet in person, they purchase music online rather than in stores and are more likely to send an IM (instant message, text message) than pick up the phone to make plans with friends. And they’ve never known any other way of life.
The authors classify Digital Immigrants as anyone born before 1980 and those less familiar with the digital environment. Digital immigrants have learned to utilize technologies like email and social networks as adults. Unlike digital natives, digital immigrants have not lived a digitally immersed life.
Of course as children’s ministry leaders we are always looking for new ways to serve our children, families and volunteers. Maybe it’s time we consider a digital perspective that serves to connect our children, families and volunteers in new ways!
Utilizing Technology With Children
A great place to start is by evaluating the current curriculum that you use each Sunday with the children. If you purchase a curriculum, look through the activities and make notes where you might naturally add a few digital activities that will enhance the learning. For example, A small group activity might be made into a skype conversation with a missionary in another country, or children from a church in another state. During music times consider adding digital music to your program. Instead of buying CDs, purchase music online that can also be easily emailed home after the lesson.
Another great way to make your curriculum more “digital native friendly” is to encourage children to create and contribute to the curriculum. If you’ll need videos, graphics or music created, consider asking children to create these elements either at church or at home to be used during the Sunday morning experience. And, if you are able to purchase an iPad, iPod or computer for the classroom, children will have additional opportunities to contribute and create digitally.
Utilizing Technology With Volunteers
I’m a big fan of volunteer training meetings. I absolutely love when everyone is together, encouraging and learning for the sake of children. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more difficult for volunteers to be in the same place at the same time. Volunteers have busy lives! But technology is making it easier to accommodate busy schedules, without compromising training. Digital resources like skype, iChat or tokbox are fantastic tools that encourage virtual meetings. Volunteers can participate from home and still be included in the training.
Twitter and children’s ministry blogs are great resources for volunteers to stay connected to the latest resources and news in children’s ministry. Encourage volunteers to read blogs and participate in the twitter #kidmin community before coming to a meeting. Also creating short and simple training videos are a perfect way to send quick tips to volunteers during the week. Whether they are tips for implementing Sunday’s curriculum or general child development tips, a short video is a great way to pass along useful information. And if you are interested sharing files electronically with volunteers, Dropbox is the perfect way to share curriculum, videos, and graphics without having to send emails with large attachments.
Utilizing Technology With Families
Families spend a considerable amount of time online together at home, whether playing games, emailing relatives or researching homework. Consider encouraging parents to spend time online reviewing the lesson from Sunday or participating in shared family experiences. Jellytelly is a great online place for families to play games, watch videos and discuss Bible stories. You might also explore the opportunity to create a digital application for your ministry. You can create a custom app for smart phones that allows parents to view the videos and curriculum from the Sunday lesson right on their phones. You can even create follow up games and activities for parents to participate in with their children.
Similar to using digital music with children, consider recommending digital books when suggesting resources for parents. Many parents prefer reading their books electronically and will be grateful that you provided an easy option for a great resource!
You know that take home sheet you send home every week, the one you hope parents read and complete with their children? Well, unfortunately, many parents may not be reading those papers! It’s not that the information on the take home sheet isn’t useful; it’s just that a lot of paper can create a bit of clutter. Consider not sending home a take home sheet and instead, sending a text or tweet or updating your ministry website immediately following Sunday morning with the same information you would have included on a take home sheet. If you feel that parents need something in hand as they are walking out, create a small postcard reminding parents to visit the website or check their text messages.
Embracing technology can be both exciting and scary! But, given the opportunities it provides to connect with children, families and volunteers in new ways, it might be just exactly what we need!
Amy Dolan is the founder and leader of Lemon Lime Kids, where she works as a children’s ministry consultant, writer, speaker, and strategist in order to develop leadership and learning for children’s spiritual formation.
This article was adapted from a session at the Children’s Ministry Telesummit. To purchase the entire audio: http://bit.ly/aew3Jn