All software has an “optimal” age range.
“Optimal” is defined as the age for which the software was designed, i.e. reading level, vocabulary play into this. Optimal also means, “that age group can handle everything in the CD without help”.
Yet, ALL Sunday Schools have a need to “stretch” software they have purchased to the fringes of that optimal range. It’s a budget and stewardship thing. And when we design our software, we’re thinking about you stretching it. Sometimes, we even tuck-in extra content for the older kids.
At first glance, you may not think some programs are SUITABLE for stretching up or down.
Examples: Cal and Marty’s Scripture Memory Game CD requires TYPING and reading skills. But…many of us have successfully used it with our 5 to 7 year olds! How? Because we are there HELPING them. And they love to type. We aren’t there to teach them how to read. But we are THERE…at the screen, that’s the secret. Some of our 3d style adventure games can be HARD for younger children who aren’t used to that style of game (or don’t know their left arrow from their right). That’s where our guides come in handy, and that’s where having extra help is golden!
And some teachers might not think a younger kids program stretches to pre-teens. Or they might think the “title” of the program is too juvenile. Take Fluffy and God’s Amazing Christmas Adventure CD, for example. “Fluffy” sounds juvenile, but Fluffy is actually a comedic sheep and the program works well for ages 5 to 17. It’s all in how you approach it.
Preschoolers and Teens Come to the Computer with Pre-conceived Notions and Bad Habits
Preschoolers often only ‘play’ with the computer, swiping, clicking, and otherwise wanting to FLY through content.
Whereas, some teens come to computers after years of solitary use of their own computer, not conditioned for cooperative use, and sometime likely to disparage anything you present because showing disinterest is a safe reaction around their peers. Create structure, a clear agenda, expectations, and then sit down WITH them at the computer.
Below are lots of tips for “stretching” your software’s “up and down” the age range.
PREVIEWING your software is the biggest tip. …And knowing when to skip, when to help, and what to zero-in on. In the Teaching Tips and Guides for most of our software, I’ve written-in age appropriate adjustments.
On this Page:
1. Stretching “down” to preschoolers
2. Stretching “up” to younger youth/teens
Tips for stretching “down” to Preschoolers-K
1. There is no substitute for having extra help. In fact, if you plan to ignore #1 here, you might as well stop reading. BTW…teens make great “Bible Lab Buddies” when your younger children are scheduled into the lab.
2. They can’t read, but they do like to be read TO. (Actually, some CAN read, a little. Don’t discourage it, because we want them to feel good about themselves.) If you have a Bible Lab Buddy to read to them, you can use a LOT of programs you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
3. They can’t type on the keyboard because they can’t spell, but they can type words if you write them plainly on a large piece of paper. Give them plenty of time and short typing projects. Even a four year old can find the “shape” of the letter if you help them. And they gain a sense of empowerment. Again, Bible Lab Buddies rule!
4. They can’t always maneuver the mouse, so put your hand ON TOP OF THEIRS to help guide their hand.
5. Their timing may be off when trying to press a key in a game, but if they have another student help them, they will enjoy it.
6. The keyboard is a toy to them. Many programs have typing as an activity. Young students might not be able to type much, but they like to try if you point out the keys, and they don’t mind dictating their words to any older student who can type for them.
7. The onscreen discussion question in the software might be over their heads, so read it to them and change it as you read it. Break it down for them as you read it (they can’t tell what the words mean anyway), bring out props/dolls/stuffed animals to illustrate points being made in the notes.
8. Recognize that the visual images in the program are teachable moments. “Read” the pictures… talk about what’s in the pictures.
9. Know when to end the software program. Surprisingly, preschoolers will stick with software longer than most other activities, if they have help.
10. If you have more than one student per computer (and you should) let each student repeat program sections with each of them at the controls. When preschoolers use software, they often want to do exactly what their fellow student JUST did. Repetition isn’t a bad thing! But it may seem odd to an adult. It will also extend their “time in the software.”
11. Don’t be afraid to use Quiz Programs with younger children. Just make the quiz questions EASIER for them and READ the questions and answers to them. They will enjoy knowing they are “ahead” or “got it right” even though they can’t read a thing.
Tip: Give preschoolers and Kindergarteners only two possible answers instead of four in a multiple choice quiz game like Fall of Jericho CD. Give them true or false questions too.
12. Save files often when using a program like Kid Pix in which the children are creating their own materials.
13. Keep a pack of monitor screen wipes in the lab. Let them touch the screen to point out who’s who in the picture.
14. Remember to pass along your insights, successes and failures to fellow teachers.
Tips for Stretching “Up” to Pre-teens/Teens
1. Structure, Structure, Structure (with a smile)
Middle Schoolers think they want free-time, but never know what to do with it. They like goofing off, but can be rather compliant when authority figures are around. They have a fear of being caught, but also a sense of righteousness and strong desire for “fairness.” (In case you’ve never done it, playing games with Middle Schoolers is all about “fairness” –but they love to cheat, as long as no one else is allowed to cheat, of course. Too funny.) They are crowd followers and mob lovers but respond pretty well to clear lesson structure and clear agendas. If they like you personally, they will respond well to you. So don’t be overly structured and stiff.
- Start your lab lesson by writing out the lesson agenda on a whiteboard. This will put them at ease about “what we’re going to do today.”
- Write down what you want them to learn, and write down the expectations. Don’t assume.
- Write out the schedule, and tell them they will be rewarded with “play time” at the end of the lesson if they “buy in” to the lesson and content with you. This age group is good at following rules to achieve rewards.
2. Reward good behavior with Play Time
At the beginning of every lesson with this age group, you need to tell them “when” and “how long” they will have to play after the lesson. (Ha! They’ll probably ask you anyway before you get the chance to tell them!) Middle Schoolers have a high “need to know” and high need for “being able to just have fun.” If you don’t schedule some play time into the lab time, they will find a way to goof off during the lesson anyway.
3. Pick the right software
They love the “gamey” software. And that’s why we have even tucked-in games in many of our “story” programs. It’s also why we have put some crazy humor in our CDs…. the older kids love it. Middle Schoolers can use use almost any software,even really “young” software, if you sell it to them and put some spin on it.
Young teens can be self-conscious about not wanting to be treated like little kids. But occasionally I have to dip into something that is a “little young” for them (such as any of the Interactive Bible Series CDs). So the first thing I do is tell them, “I know this isn’t for you, but I thought we take a look anyway.” Those opening words grant me a lot of grace. My Middle Schoolers and I have a good relationship and they trust me. Humor helps, and some “psychology” never hurts.
Occasionally I’ll run into teacher who thinks Middle Schoolers need more “serious Bible study” software. Those teachers are usually the wrong kind of teachers for this age group. Middle Schoolers love to play and they respond to quirky humor. In the software I design, I try to remember that. You’ll see a lot of funny odd things like bread crumbs along the lesson path. In Elijah & Jonah CD, we made a little animation of the Prophets of Baal repeatedly spearing themselves in the head as they danced (just like the Bible says). And we added a button for them to “re-spit” Jonah onto the dry land. They love stuff like that. Software allows young people to “PLAY THROUGH” the story. The “play” creates engagement. It turns on brain cells. Many adults like playful software too. If you have teachers who DO NOT LIKE playful software, they need to be retired.
4. Anything that’s like a game or has competition in it will go over big.
Pre-teens and Middle Schoolers love to play. They are hooked on videogames, the internet, and are still playing a lot of extracurricular sports. This means that programs like Galilee Flyer, Bongo, and all the games in Elijah & Jonah CD. They also love the quizzes in software. If one computer workgroup doesn’t do so well in a Life of Christ quiz, all I have to point out is that another workgroup has a higher score, and the kids will want to take their quiz again. Be careful not to create long quizzes that are too hard in programs such as Fall of Jericho CD. It can backfire. Middle Schoolers don’t like to look stupid in front of their peers.
They like programs they can change. So it comes as no surprise that our Middle Schoolers won’t leave our Let’s Talk program alone. I had forgotten how much Middle Schoolers love to type and love to make the computer “do things.” Making the computer talk is right up their alley. All I have to do is clearly set up the task and monitor their progress, and…kick them off of it after the class is over. They want to keep playing it.
Cal & Marty’s Scripture Memory Game CD is a perfect Middle School program. They get to “program it” by adding verses and quiz questions. And if they take too much time solving a verse, or I want them to do it again, all I have to do is say “try beating so-and-so’s score” and they’re instantly back at it.
Aside: Middle Schoolers can also be allergic to anything packaged as “serious content.” Bible CDs and Bible Atlases have some cool multimedia in them, but Middle Schoolers will try and pass by the text. With this age group, “the grass is always greener on the other screen.” So when I use these types of tools, I have to use them in a limited, structured, feet to the fire -kind of way. Actually, I have to use these approaches with this age group all the time. Read on…
5. “Monitor their progress” by being right in there with them
Pre-teens and Middle Schoolers are naturally playful, but left unattended, -their playfulness turns into goofing off. This is why it is important WHO the teacher is, and WHERE the teacher is during the lesson. Middle Schoolers can smell a “Cream Puff” or “Harvey Milquetoast” teacher a mile away.
If your Middle Schoolers “rotate” into your lab, one of the most important things you can do is make sure their regular leaders come with them. The Middle School leaders likely has figured these kids out. They know which ones to keep an eye on, and how to leverage their attention.
In lieu of their regular leader, make sure you have a strong computer lab teacher. Then, when the kids get in the lab, tell them upfront EXACTLY what you’ll be doing that day. This age group wants to know “what are we going to do today” more than any other. Middle Schoolers can be full of anxieties, so let them in on your agenda and don’t be afraid to provide structure.
Middle Schoolers respond well to personal presence. If your teachers aren’t sitting right at the computers with the students, you’re missing a key ingredient in working with this age group.
6. How to Get Them to Talk
Believe it or not, Middle Schoolers love to talk. Some (most, actually) just might not want to look “uncool” or “childish” by talking with the teacher. Their ego’s safest answer is always “I don’t know.” I know that some teachers and pastors (usually fresh out of seminary) think they can get “Middle Schoolers to talk” just by the force of their dynamic personality, or creative ice breakers. But the truth is, they don’t like to talk in “mixed” groups because of psychological, developmental and cultural reasons. Take it from an old hand… You need to find ways to work around it, instead of banging your forehead against it. Middle Schoolers would give Jesus a hard time.
Middle Schoolers don’t like being put “on the spot” in front of everybody. When everyone is looking at them, they feel self-conscious more than any other age group. That’s why teaching AT the computer actually helps them, because they’re not eyeball-to-eyeball with everyone. Now you also know I invented the Let’s Talk CD. They can design an onscreen character to do their talking FOR THEM. We even have their character “pray” for them at the end of the lesson. It’s really a funny thing isn’t it?
Aside: Middle Schoolers love instant messaging, phones and text messaging BECAUSE they are anxious about how they sound and appear before others. These communication tools help them get around their anxieties. They create a slight bit of anonymity.
None of this is to say you should not try holding a face-to-face discussion with your group. I do it all the time -because my kids know me really well. But I get better results when we’re not putting them on the spot.
7. Figure Out Who the Ringleaders are…
Middle Schoolers follow the cues of their peers. A peer who has strong social skills and a “cool” factor going on will be the leader of the group, even though no formal voting takes place. It’s just the way their world works. This leader can help your lessons or hinder them greatly. Identify the leaders early, and cater to them. They want the attention, and will set the tone for everyone else about “what’s ok to do or say.” I know this sounds counter intuitive and even wrong, but it works. If the ringleaders follow your lead, the others will follow.
Corollary: Find out who the computer geeks are… They often want to show people how much of a computer geek they are, and that means they can sometimes work against your lesson. They want to flip through everything, or try to thwart the controls, or can’t wait to get into the screensaver. Actually, I like to talk to these kids because I’m a tech geek too. Part of what they want is recognition that they ARE cool with technology. It’s part of their ego. Sometimes I’ll ask the geek to help with a “not so geeked” kid. Or I’ll ask them to come in early and stay late to turn on/shutdown the computers. Occasionally I’ll have my geeks preview a new program after class. Over time, it works miracles.
A lot of the time, I recruit these “leader geeks” to help me teach the younger kids. It is an amazing thing to see a Middle Schooler go from “working against the lesson” to becoming a model student, all because they are teachers now too. It’s as if they are on the “inside” now because they have been asked to lead. Can’t tell you how many times these tips have worked great things for those kids who were once a bit of trouble.
Note: the “computer geeks” these days aren’t not the same as they were long ago. IE –you can’t identify them by their pocket protectors. Often, they are technologically savvy, and in the “in crowd” as well.
Teens like to help, and if they THINK the program “isn’t for them” then they don’t worry about looking stupid using a younger kids program. I can get them to use just about ANY program if I tell them we’re going to preview it, discuss it, and create a lesson plan or worksheet, or QUIZ “for the younger children who are coming in next”. I’ve even had high school football players using a Pre-K “Say Your Prayers” program then having them make a new prayer for the preschoolers using Kid Pix. MISDIRECTION!
9. More Discussion Tricks ‘O the Trade
Visual redirection… Middle Schoolers seem to respond better when looking at visual images other them you and their fellow students. Meaning: you’ll likely have a better discussion about a movie if you’re all looking at clips. You’ll likely have a better discussion about a lesson in Life of Christ when you are looking at that software, or showing them one of the pictures from the lesson they just took.
Response Misdirection…. If you ask a Middle Schooler what THEY think about a Bible passage, they are likely to dummy up. But if you ask them what a MOM, or a Teacher, or a young kid might think, they can respond because it’s “not about them.” I use this technique in Kid Pix 3 a lot. The drawing tools are a bit elementary for them, but the talk-back typing tools are not. I’ll ask them to draw a crazy scene, such as “the Pentecost story as told by Pirates,” then ask them to “state the meaning of the Gospel in Pirate language.” Or, “define the Good News in terms a Baby would understand.” Works every time, and it’s fun. This is the same principle behind our Let’s Talk CD.
Anonymous Response… Sometimes I collect their responses to lesson questions on anonymous slips of paper. Then we play a game of “who wrote this.” It greases the skids for follow up discussion with the person who wrote it. Or if nobody claims it, others have fun adding to the answer. Making discussion into a GAME is sometimes a great way to get the ball rolling. Anonymity creates a safe zone too.
Move on Dot Org… Don’t linger on a question or subject too long. Resist believing that your overly-long and sincere monologue is a required lesson element!
Unlike any other age group, any other, pre-teens Middle Schoolers are hyper-aware of “how they feel” in situations. And they come to us at a time in their life when many are judgmental towards them, worried about their behavior, and when their peers are at their peak harshness. And let’s not forget to mention the hormones, enough said. You are raising students, not plowing-in information. If they feel good about your time with them, they will trust you more the next time. If you bore them, or make them uncomfortable by putting them on the spot, you’ll lose them.
<>< Neil MacQueen