Working with children often means having to find that elusive balance between what we know they need and what they show us they want. This is particularly true in Christian education settings where your time is limited, and the stakes seem high.
Do we “entertain” kids in order to keep them coming back, even if that means we don’t cover much ministry content? Do we try out new styles of teaching and leading even when that makes it tricky to find and retain volunteers? Do we use technology as a tool for learning despite the feeling that we’re caving in to short attention spans?
While these can often feel like binary choices, recent research suggests that we might not have to choose between fun and function. Take the use of video as a teaching tool, for example. For nearly two decades, parents and other adult caregivers have been warned of the dangers of screen time for children, particularly children under five. But in 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) revised their longstanding recommendations on screen time based on new research about exactly how media consumption affects a child’s brain.
The Social Side of Screens
The AAP recommendation was changed in large part because researchers realized it wasn’t the screens or what was on them that was potentially problematic, but the lack of personal interaction that came as the result of that screen time. In other words, the presence of another person had far more impact on brain development than the content of a video or TV show.
That’s great news for anyone doing faith formation ministry with children. Perhaps more than other kinds of storytelling, using Sunday school video options offer a multitude of entry points for kids to connect to a story ‑ music, art, words, images, characters, narrative structures. But when they watch a video on their own, they don’t really get the chance to unpack what they watched. In a classroom setting, kids can dive into the details together, sharing their impressions and hearing the ideas of others. That leads to engagement and engagement leads to learning.
Smart Tech Tactics
This new thinking on screen time asks adult leaders to consider how best to incorporate video into your children’s ministry program. Consider these ideas as you make plans for adding Sunday school video as a teaching tool:
Keep it short. The idea isn’t to substitute video for other kinds of teaching. Think of a video clip as a starting point for conversation around a faith topic, Bible story, or an illustration of a concept you want kids to take to heart, not serve as the entire lesson itself. Try to limit videos to five to ten minutes, leaving plenty of time to explore the ideas illustrated by the clip.
Keep it communal. The original AAP recommendations were centered on the idea that using screen time as a substitute for human interaction had an adverse effect on developing brains. The revised recommendations double down on the idea that kids need social stimulation alongside their media consumption. So make sure to follow up any video watched with group conversation or activities with peers and leaders that help kids explore the ideas presented.
Prep parents. Many parents are doing everything they can to reduce the amount of time their kids spend staring at a screen. They might give you some pushback when they learn you’re bringing even more screen time into their kids’ lives, especially in a church setting. You can preempt their concerns by creating a clear set of media guidelines that you communicate to your families at the start of the program year. Let them know what criteria you use to select video content for Sunday school, your reasons for using video, and the ways you’re helping your students process what they watch in class. You may even want to invite parents to a Sunday school open house where they can watch a video too and see how their kids respond!
Interested in seeing some Sunday school video options? View our favorite clips here.