Suggested Minimums and Recommended Hardware for Computers in Christian Education
=This article is regularly updated to reflect our latest opinion and experience with hardware.=
This article is for our church customers who typically are using donated equipment or inexpensive new ones. Our recommendations are based on the AVAILABLE software and typical Sunday School use, and not the “wishful thinking” some people imagine about “kids with tablets” (which suffer from a huge lack of good apps that will run on them.)
Hardware can be a blessing or a curse. The RIGHT computer allows you to focus on teaching and gives you viewing flexibility. The wrong hardware and setup can cause frustration and waste teaching opportunities. Read this page as “best advice” not only from me, but from our customers. For more “how to teach” with computers in Sunday School, read my FREE BOOK, Teaching with Computers in Christian Education.
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my name is Neil MacQueen. You are not “bugging me” when you ask for help. This is my ministry since 1990, and business since 1996.
See also: Sunday Software Tech Support Page
Read the book: Teaching with Computers in Christian Education
View Customer submitted Computer Lab Photos
Windows? or Mac?
Windows, hands down. There’s almost NO Christian software for kids that runs on the Mac OS. Once upon a time, there were many. It’s not an argument, just the reality.
Churches are finding Windows PCs pretty easy to get donated for free.
Most Christian software, including all the software in our catalog, will run great on a Windows 7-era computer. In general, that Windows 7-era computer probably has a budget processing chip that’s “fast enough,” 4+ gigs of RAM, and an integrated video chip. Provided the hardware and software is not “off brand” and in good shape, you will be satisfied with how that computer runs our software. If you come across a Windows 8-installed computer, we recommend upgrading it to 10.
If I were buying a new computer today, I would buy an inexpensive Windows 10-installed Desktop PC with a nice big monitor so that I could gather kids around it.
Read my article:
Installing and Running Our Software on Windows 8 and 10
Tablets, MAC OS, ipads, etc, are NOT reasonable choices right now.
IF you want to make use of existing Christian software, you would be extremely wise to stick with Windows. Extremely wise. Years ago Apple abandoned the idea of “backwards compatibility” for software more than a few years old, and that left a lot of good Christian titles out in the cold and caused Christian developers to abandon programming for the Mac OS laptops and desktops.
I know “kids with tablets” is a dream for some, but the few decent Bible apps that exist have shallow content or are for little kids. As well, the dream some have of kids using tablets to access the internet for lesson content is problematic for a number of reason. Read more about that below.
Read my article: “What about iPads and Tablets?”
LAPTOP OR DESKTOP ?? Read on!
Minimums for Old Computers
I would accept nothing less than a Windows 7-era PC with a minimum 1.4 ghz processor. (That said, a Windows XP computer with 2+gb of Ram runs about 2/3’s of our software just fine.) Windows 7 is better. Windows 10 is best. Minimum 4 gb of Ram. This recommendation about the older used computers that churches sometimes have or their members will donate.
DETAILS and RELATED ISSUES
New or Nearly New Computer Minimum to Get Started
I recommend getting started with nothing less than:
- Windows Windows 7, 8 or 10.
- Minimum 1.6 ghz processor or higher.
- Minimum 4 gigabytes Ram memory.
- Minimum 64 megabytes of VideoRAM (most have quite more)
- DVD-capable CD Rom drive.
- 19″ LCD screen for students to share.
- Internet access*
This level of new or nearly new machine described above will allow you to run everything currently on the market, and likely to come out within the next three to five years in Christian software. Historically, Christian software has not pushed the outer edge of system requirements. A good “one step above basic” computer is usually sufficient, and if ii is a few years old, it may just need more RAM.
If you already have some of our OLDER software and are thinking about upgrading to newer hardware, read: About Upgrading to Windows 7 or 8. Please also see our continuing recommendation on this page to stick with Desktops. They are more “cooperative group of kids” –friendly.
Today’s operating systems need to be able to update themselves. However, your lab doesn’t necessarily need dedicated or constant internet access. You just need to be able to get your computers updated every so often, and especially at the outset. Windows 8 or 10 may require you to register it online, but also includes a phone number you can call.
You may also find it helpful to access teachable content on the web for an occasional lesson, such as, a youtube video. Or to print one of our teaching guides that you left at home!
We DO recommend that the teacher have access to online content they can show the class. There are lots of online Bibles, photos and graphics, and videos you can use to spice up your lessons and get their attention. However, we DO NOT recommend KIDS doing the searching and clicking. Why not? …Because most experiments in “having the kids surf” to web site content in Sunday School have come to the same conclusions:
(1) The content. Unless you’re talking about a video YouTube, Bible content for kids just isn’t out there in a kid-friendly format or with any depth. Online Bibles and study tools are really nice, but most teachers lack the ability to manage 3 to 10 kids accessing and clicking around these online sites without wasting huge amounts of time and also exposing our kids to a lot of ads.
(2) Kids will click faster than you can tell them not too. It’s like herding cats.
(3) Older students tend to use the internet access to show things to their friends when the teacher isn’t looking. It’s just their nature.
Again, what we DO recommend is teacher-led use of internet content to make Bible study more visual and anticipatory.
If you’re buying new desktops or laptops, as long as you stick with a brand name pretty much anything you get, even their budget version, will be PLENTY good enough for our software and your purposes.
Upgrading from XP or 7 to Windows 8 or 10?
I’d suggest skipping Windows 8 and going right to 10. They have similar minimum specs, and Windows 10 is a great improvement over 8. Read my article: Installing and Running Our Software on Windows 8 and 10
That said, these days an old XP or Windows 7 computers may have issues.
Desktop or Laptop?
I still recommend Desktops over Laptops. Here’s why:
- Cost, durability, upgradeability, and screen viewing area.
- Laptop screens are okay for one person, but not so great for two students and a teacher.
- Tablets are cool, but there simply aren’t enough Christian apps to justify their cost, and they tend to be “single user” devices, whereas 2 or 3 kids can share a desktop screen.
- You do not need a touchscreen. Your students will be working cooperatively at the screen, not hogging it all to themselves.
Why I do not like laptops for Sunday School:
1. Laptop screens are difficult to view when you’re sitting at the side or 3 feet away. You will likely have 2 kids and a teacher trying to see the screen.
2. Laptops aren’t as durable as desktops. The drive trays are flimsy and keys/touchpad less durable.
3. Touchpads aren’t younger kid-friendly.
4. Laptop speakers are usually poor, and their volume controls not the easiest to access (which you often need to control several times during class.)
5. The ARROW KEYS on laptop keyboards are often too small and difficult to use. In MANY games and interactive programs, you use those arrow keys to navigate.
If you must use laptops…
a. Make sure they have volume controls above the keyboard for easy access, or attach speakers.
b. Add a mouse.
c. Go with something that has a full-er size keyboard. A lot of our programs are navigated by the ARROW keys, and some laptops have small arrow keys.
d. You’ll still want external speakers because laptop speakers are usually awful.
These look like a screen and a keyboard with no tower. Many have touch screens. The computer is built into the back of the screen. Generally, these are more expensive than standalone towers with separate screens. I recommend big tables for groups to use the computer, so having room for a tower isn’t usually a problem. I don’t recommend touchscreens for group use. All that said, from time to time a customer says they were able to get a really good deal on them, so why not.
Flat Panel or CRT ? (the old big box monitors)
Either or is fine, but I lean towards LCD monitors these days. They occupy less space, are easier to move, and reasonably priced.
19″ is a minimum. 20-24″ is good, especially if you’re going to have 3 kids in front of it, and from time to time, have the entire class looking at something on it.
These can be fine, but a little expensive, and you’ll need screen wipes (a lot of screen wipes). But since we’re recommending DESKTOPS and not laptops or tablets, “touchscreens” can tend to favor the kids right in front of the monitor, and make the kids on the side feel like they’re not getting their turn. It’s a “reach” thing.
Don’t waste time, opportunity or treasure…
Read the free book:
Teaching with Computers
in Christian Education
Among other important topics, it answers:
- Why we teach with software.
- How software enhanced learning.
- What software to start out with.
- How to teach with various types of software.
- How to design and decorate your lab.
- How to adjust software to different age groups.
- How to save money when buying software.
- How to schedule lessons and kids into your lab.
- How to train your lab teachers.
- Top software picks for a long-term library.
- and quite a bit more.
Answers to Other Frequently Asked Hardware Questions
How Many Computers do you Need?
I recommend “2.5 kids per computer” because we teach and learn cooperatively in Sunday School, and cooperative use is not only part of our approach to learning, it’s good stewardship. The # of computers you put in your “lab” will dramatically impact your software budget, the ability of the teachers to sit with kids AT the computers, and the amount of SOUND cacophony you have to deal with in the lab.
Beware of over-sizing your lab with too many computers. Even if you have a lot of money or donation of computers, and a big room and lots of kids, I strongly caution churches against creating computer labs which are beyond their long-term capacity to resource and manage. Read my book for more set up details.
How Many Students Per Computer?
In most cases you will be putting 2 or 3 students in front of each computer. We believe in cooperative learning.
Too many computers = a bigger software budget and the need for more teacher-helpers.
What about Linux or Apple/Mac?
No. The vast majority of available Christian software is designed for Windows.
Do I need a printer?
Yes, many programs have print features. We recommend buying inexpensive inkjet printers. Top notch office quality is unnecessary. We recommend a 2:1 ratio or computers to printers if you’ll be networking them. Why? Because kids don’t have all day to wait for their color printing projects to print out.
Can I network my computers?
The only reason to network computers is to share printers, conduct operating system maintenance, or share Internet access. Networking computers to share software is illegal if you don’t have a network or site license for that software. Read my DETAILED ANSWER TO THE NETWORKING QUESTION.
Can I copy or network software from one computer to others?
Almost all Christian software is licensed to you for use on one computer only. It is VERY illegal to copy programs/CDs as a way to get around purchasing the proper number of copies. Most Christian software isn’t designed to run from a server.
Can I buy site licenses or network copies of this software?
Sunday Software now makes its software available via DOWNLOAD in two licenses versions: Single installation price and 2+ installation price. Back the day we had a more elaborate “licensing” and price structure. Simplified and less expensive now!
Should I use headphones?
Please don’t. What’s the point of trying to teach a Bible lesson if the kids can’t hear the teacher? Set up your lab so that the computers aren’t drowning each other out! For more on this subject, and how to successfully deal with sound in your lab, go read “Get Thee Behind Me Headphones” in the book Teaching with Computers.
You can also read my brief version of Get Thee Behind Me Headphones online.
Do I need Optical Drives (i.e. CD or DVD drives) on each computer?
Not any more, unless you will only be buying CD copies of our software. Any program on a CD can be transferred to a USB FLASH DRIVE (memory stick) and transported to any computer’s USB input for file transferring.
What’s the best way to set up my computers in a teaching situation?
Start small, keep your computers separated from each other with plenty of room and sound buffering between them. Make sure there is a spot for the teacher to sit down and go through the software with the kids (and not just watching them).