Jul 24, 2017

Why You Should Turn Off the Screens in Your Children's Ministry

I've always used screens in children's ministry.  Screens to show music videos before service.  Screens for video games.  Screens for programs like PowerPoint, Pro Presenter and Media Shout.  Screens to help families check-in.  Screens for worship songs.  Screens for family events.  Screens to display interactive, digital puppets.  Screens for the Bible.   Screens to share upcoming events.  Screens for review games.  Screens to illustrate messages.  Screens to display interactive crowd games.   I'm sure you have as well.  And rightly so.  Today's kids have been called the Visual Generation and they hear with their eyes.

Screens are very helpful in children's ministry, but we must also remember that times have changed.  Kids are so inundated with screens that it doesn't get them as excited as it once did.  Today's kids have screens in their lives basically 24/7 as they look at tablets, phones, laptops, televisions and more.  They have replaced the physical world with a virtual world.  Rather than touching and interacting with real objects, they do so with virtual objects.  So much to the point that real objects are starting to hold an appeal to them.  Real objects provide a unique experience that draws them in.

This means that kids of all ages - preschoolers, elementary-age kids and pre-teens are drawn toward the multi-sensory experiences of real-world play.  Take for example the recent popularity of flipping water bottles, making slime, wearable food and the infamous fidget spinners.  Fidget spinners are the hottest plaything of 2017.  80% of kids say fidget spinners are really popular and 70% are using them.

Water bottle flipping is inexpensive and provides kids with hours of non-screen entertainment.  Kids try to flip half-filled water bottles and make them land upright or even upside-down.  You can see kids doing this everywhere from playgrounds to the kitchen table to airports to lunch rooms.

As I mentioned in an article a few weeks ago, slime is making a come back.  Kids are experiencing the multi-sensory experience of slime with all of its textures, colors and scents.  Slime provides kids with hands-on creativity as they make it.  Kids are using their creativity to create lots of unique combinations.

Food is also trending as a popular method of multi-sensory play.  It taps into all five senses and provides unlimited creativity.  An example is the Jelly Bean Boozled game, which requires kids to try different flavors of jelly beans.  The jelly beans can be a delicious flavor or a gross flavor like lawn clippings or dog food.  Pie Face is another recent game that involves food.  Kids experience getting a pie in the face and the fun of pie-ing other people.  Another example is the "real vs. gummy" challenge.  Kids try a food item like a real hamburger and a gummy burger to decide which taste better.   "Eat it or wear it" is a game where kids have to eat surprise things.  If they don't accept the dare, the item is dumped over their head.

These examples bring us to the realization that we should turn off the screens in our children's ministries.  Should we turn them off all the time?  Definitely not.  Digital play and communication is still one of the primary methods of effectively teaching kids.  But hands-on, experiential, multi-sensory methods of teaching are also very appealing to kids and should be used. 

I have seen children's ministries that only use video teaching.  They plop kids down in front of a screen the entire service.  After awhile, kids become restless and bored and lose interest.  What is missing?  Real world, interactive opportunities.  Screens used to be novel so it was a huge draw for kids.  But now screens are the norm which means learning with real objects is novel and is a huge draw. 

Think about it with me.  The average kid in your ministry woke up on Sunday morning and grabbed a nearby tablet and interacted with the screen while getting ready, eating breakfast and driving to church.  They played games on a cell phone walking into church, looked into a screen to check in and then continued to play on a cell phone while waiting for service to start.

As with anything the key is balance.  The digital world and real world need not be at odds with each other, but can compliment each other.  We should provide both for kids at church.  Children's ministries that do both well will be highly effective and connect with this generation of kids.

Here are some questions to think about and talk about with your team.

What percentage of kids' time at our church is in front of a screen?  Is this too much, too little or well balanced?

Are we providing kids with hands-on, experiential, interactive, multi-sensory learning experiences?

How can we more effectively balance digital and real world learning methods in our ministry?

Are we using hands-on activities and games for kids during our pre-service / pre-class time?

Do we encourage volunteers to spend time with kids before service starts playing games, doing puzzles, making crafts, etc.?

How can we incorporate slime into our lessons?

How can we incorporate food into our lessons? 

How can we incorporate popular games like water bottle flipping into our lesson?  

Your turn.  The floor is yours.  What are your thoughts on balancing screen time and hands-on play time in children's ministry?  Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

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