Every month I have the privilege of being contacted by pastors, parents, and teachers looking for software for their special needs kids:
autistism or social issues
mentally or emotionally challenged
- delayed intellectual development
and sometimes just a kid who doesn’t fit in or is having a hard time in class
Many of these parents and teachers know what we’ve seen in the classroom, and what a decade of education research confirms: computers COMMAND the mind and body’s attention. This makes computers an especially helpful tool for those teaching special need kids.
The parents, teachers and pastors come to us having already experienced the positive effects of computer-assisted learning at home or school, …and they want the same help in church.
Help a Kid = Help a Parent
In many cases, our help is not only for the kids, it is the difference between the parent being able to go to church -or not.
I receive many notes from pastors and parents... let me share this one from Leah B. in Dereham Baptist Church, Dereham Norfolk, England (yep, we’re pretty international around here)
You will be pleased to hear just how good the laptop & discs have been. The one week the laptop was NOT available the little boy was so uncontrollable he had to be sent home from Church, so they are such a valuable resource for a Sunday morning for him and the rest of the congregation. It is the difference between a little boy distressed and tearing about and not able to focus on anything, –to a little boy sitting calmly at a laptop listening to stories and enjoying playing games. Thank you so much and I just want you to know how much difference your products have made.
The effect on the parents of special needs kids is often profound.
Case in Point: A parent bought software from us for his son Ben to use on a laptop which the pastor had bought for the boy. A group of teens volunteered to be “Ben’s Buddies” each Sunday. Until this project, the father seriously questioned whether they could continue to go to church as a family as Ben was a constant disruption in the classroom, and some of his peers were avoiding him. Now Ben can’t wait to go to church, and he’s even helping younger children at “Ben’s computer.”
Interestingly, what’s so attractive to special needs kids is ALSO what’s so attractive to the rest of us.
Volunteer-led Sunday Schools not only struggle with special needs children, we struggle with “regular needs” children who have attention problems due to boredom, or who easily disengage because they know they are “volunteer” students who aren’t going to be graded.
That’s what first got my attention back in 1990 when I didn’t even like computers. Computers are a tool to help us OVERCOME the challenges of disengagement and distractions, –if you do it right.
There have been a variety of studies done about learning with interactive software, and each of them highlights something that’s particularly helpful when considering challenged kids.
(1) In a study done by Purdue Univ., researches determined that learning challenged children don’t necessarily “learn better” at the computer. RATHER, what changes is their classroom behavior, –it improves which allows them to learn longer in a manner that’s less disruptive or distracting to everyone concerned.
This is why I often hear parents and teachers of challenged children say things like:
- “He doesn’t get up and wander around as much.”
- “He’s calmer in the Sunday School now because he knows he’s going to get on the computer.”
- “She is quieter at the computer where before she would talk out of turn and disrupt the class.”
- “He doesn’t get agitated as much.”
The same holds true for our more typical students. Years ago our pastor walked by our computer lab and thought something was wrong because it was so quiet. “Is anything wrong?” he asked, and I said, “Nope, they’re just learning Psalm 23.” He walked into the lab to see the kids intently trying to order the words of the Psalm, and working together. It was an epiphany for him.
(2) MIT did a study of what children remember about lessons. The study found that lesson presented through audio and reading-only produced fewer strong memories, while lesson retention “skyrocketed” when the content was interacted with in a computer interface. Listening and reading are often problematic for some challenged kids, especially in a distracting environment. The computer, however, has proven itself able to compete for the mind’s attention.
Psychologists believe that one reason computers are helpful to special needs children is that they don’t require the complex set of social skills that a classroom does. Working in small groups, or having to make eye contact across a table, can be daunting to many children, special needs or not. The focus on the screen helps buffer the situation, and personal space issues seem to melt away at the computer.
How are churches scheduling computer time for Special Needs Kids?
My customers are describing solutions that are often as unique as the child’s needs and church’s resources. But in general, they are either supplementing that child’s Sunday School or Fellowship lesson time with “computer time”–inside or outside their classroom on an occasional basis, OR, they are using computers on a regular basis in an individualized approach with a helper assigned to the child. Either way, it’s quite a ministry and commitment, and we’re thrilled to help.
What software are they choosing?
The choice of software depends on the needs and abilities of the individual student.
- Functional Age of the Child, both conceptually and with regard to reading level.
- Manual Dexterity. Do they use a mouse and arrow keys well?
- Degree to which they love a challenge. Some kids are easily frustrated, others will rise to the challenge of a game.
- Will a helper be present?
Some special needs children ages 10-12 do well with software designed for their grade level, while others need to use younger children’s software, like Charlie Church Mouse.
Kids who can read, have manual dexterity, the ability to focus, and like computer games, will thrive with a game like Galilee Flyer. Though it has only four subjects, flying the airplane in the landscape is fun and ever changing.
Some excel with Kid Pix‘s illustration tools but need help with the text tools in that program. Others have difficulty with mouse-drawing, or un-structured “creative” programs, but do well with point and click stories.
Some challenged children get hooked on using one program over and over again. One customer’s mentally impaired son just wants to play Bongo Love the Bible CD every Sunday, and his parents are happy because it means they are called out of worship less often. But Bongo Loves the Bible CD would be too hard for a keyboard-challenged child, or a child who is easily frustrated.
In that case of that one customer’s son playing Bongo, he memorized the answers after playing it several times, but still want to play it. Yet I know that another customer’s child was “scared of being lost in the jungle.” This is another example of the “trial & error” nature of matching software to your child.
This is part of the challenge of teaching with software… figuring out the particular needs of the students, and having the flexibility to adapt.
Some special need kids need more structure and fewer options. Some need more open-ended or “gamey” software. Some love to hear stories, while others have to have their hands busy. Some will play a game over and over, while others get easily bored. Read our software descriptions CAREFULLY. Watch the video demos linked on their pages. And if you have questions, ASK !
Computer Teaching Tips for Kids with Special Needs
- Have an assistant help them.
- Headphones can be isolating, creating a sense of “it’s just me here”. This can be good or bad depending on your set-up and the child.
- Structure and rewards work well with many special needs. Consider having stickers, candies, certificates, and progress charts by the computer.
- In multiple computer settings, simple dividers can help reduce distractions and sound spray between stations.
- Turning off the lights often settles down the student’s senses and reduces peripheral distractions.
- “Sharing” is a problem with some special need kids. Having a keyboard and mouse you can slide on the table helps.
- Laptops are problematic for several reasons: difficulty in using the touch pad, cramped keyboard, small viewing area. Think big tables and desktops.
- Set time restrictions. Some students respond positively with a clock. Some don’t like to leave or quit. Give them something to look forward to AFTER the software, such as a reward or snack.
- Some challenged kids are especially receptive to rewards for completing tasks in software, or mastering a program. Others can be frustrated by such things.
- In some cases it’s good to set up your computer in a special spot and allow the student to decorate it to make it their own.
- We do not have software for “tablets” and “iPads.” Some free Christian “apps” do exist in the iTunes app store. Most are simple and tend to be for younger children.
What’s sauce for the goose….
I have often quipped that “ALL our Sunday School kids are learning challenged”. They are disabled by doubt, –by lack of compelling methods, –by competition from the culture for their attention, –by poor faith role models in the home, –and by their own attitudes and disabilities. We can’t afford to bore them away. We have to bring our best efforts, and best tools.
If there’s a more important and challenging ministry in the church than teaching our kids, I don’t know what it is. I invite you to call me to discuss your child’s specific needs and abilities so that we can pick the right program for them. 1-614-527-8776, or better yet, email your details to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2011/16, Neil MacQueen, www.sundaysoftware.com All rights reserved. Permission granted for local church and teacher training use. The photos on this page are from our customers.
Neil MacQueen is a Presbyterian minister, veteran Children and Youth minister, writer and consultant, and developer of interactive Bible software for children and youth. For more of his articles about the church, go to www.sundaysoftware.com/articles and www.sundayresources.net