Editor's Note: This topic is for offering content suggestions for online Sunday School and at-home Sunday School. It begins with some thoughts from Neil MacQueen, our resident webmaster, teacher, and media wrangler.



Thoughts on online and at-home Sunday School and Worship with Kids...

JesusComputerI took a wander through some churches' attempts this month (March 2020) at providing "online content" for the kids and families. It was a mixed bag.  

I saw quite a few people fumbling with equipment and with what to say, Quite a bit of bad audio and poor lighting. Stiff talking heads. You get the idea. One of the things we’re learning is how unprepared and unskilled  church leaders are to meet this sudden need for outreach online and at-home. And yet, even after this crisis is over, it’s fair to say that our need to do better connecting online and at-home in the years ahead is only going to grow. Consider this our wake up call.

I’ve been told that my criticism of the quality I’ve seen online is condescending especially to small churches and volunteers. So let me reassure you, they are for paid staff and larger churches too   For a lot of reasons, many churches have struggled with media for decades and the quality of their online presence for many years. And so here in 2020, let’s cut the excuses and help each other do better.

I've added suggestions in posts below, but first I want to start with my best tips, and then list some of the caveats and challenges I see in online and at-home Sunday School.

Here are my top two tips for getting Christian Ed content into homes:

1. Make use of the EXTENSIVE library of Christian content on YouTube. 

 Rotation.org's VIDEO WORKSHOP forums are full of online video suggestions and they are organized by Bible story!

But please be picky. There's also a lot of LAME Christian content on YouTube, and if you aren't selective, the kids or parents will NOT COME BACK.

2. Recommend a variety of home-do-able fun learning projects, such as cooking and games.

 Rotation.org's COOKING and GAME Workshops are full of things that can be done at home.


Advice for those going online with their Sunday School outreach

Over the past three decades I've been using, teaching with and eventually making online media and interactive software. And as a content-wrangler and lesson writer here at Rotation.org, I've spent more than a few hundred hours scouring the web for good content and coming across a lot of bad and mediocre. I've also been taking a closer look at what some churches are doing to reach kids and families at home during the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic. Here's some advice for those going online with their Sunday School outreach.

  1. Assume a shorter attention span. Think 10-15 minutes max unless your content is varied and energetic.. 

  2. Avoid using too much print media, or lessons with too many instructions. This is not Sunday School as usual. (Same problem in online worship. Church services need to adapt to being in an online medium if they want to use it well.)

  3. Be realistic. The odds of a parent or child printing your elaborate PDF are few and far between. Assume a parent is with the child, but maybe not onboard.

  4.  Don't link to, create, or show overly long videos unless they are specifically designed as "programs" for kids (like an animated Bible video). If it's longer than 3 minutes, it better be good because UNLIKE at church, people can hit the fast-forward button online.

  5. Avoid making "bump on a log" talking-head messages. This includes those of your boring pastor talking about the importance of a story or delivering a children's message. If you decide to create introductory videos, be energetic and do it with some basic m production values like good sound and lights, backdrops, movement, etc.)   

  6. Better to do one thing well, than several mediocre (or worse).

  7. Get help from people who know good media and tech. This is NO time for you to be figuring out how to edit a video. Most churches have members who know how to do technical things, or know people who can help. 

  8. Where possible, get kids in the picture. Kids love seeing themselves on the screen. Use live streaming, or record kids doing the talking, not boring adults. 

  9. Don't waste people's initial wave of interest and intrigue on amateurish offerings. Most churches can’t afford to reinforce people’s opinion that church is a quaint dinosaur. 

  10. Your Advice Here (feel free to post it below!)

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With regard to Tip #1 Above... Finding Good Existing Content...

Check out this church's online Sunday School/Worship for Children video. They've edited into one video several things from other sources. It's not perfect, but it's pretty darn good!

LIFEKIDS children's ministry has a free "channel" on YouTube has lots of good stuff: https://www.youtube.com/channe...vV66gr1IItGbbBodqc7A  Do I recommend everything they put out? No. Like everything online, you need to be CHOOSY.

LIFEKIDS' video about God's Holy Spirit for EARLY CHILDHOOD is age-appropriate and cute: https://youtu.be/S_n8KzKLgOE   Notice how varied the presentation is. Even has a song video at the end for the little guys.


TIP: You can EXCERPT videos by choosing where in the video to start showing them to your people. Just click "Share" on the YouTube window and check the time signature box.

BTW: The animation of the Bible story in the embedded video above is from Saddleback Kids Ministry. Their free Bible videos are all over YouTube. We've linked to all of them here at Rotation.org. Just look up the Bible Story you want to teach in our Lesson Forums and go into the Video Workshop to find the Saddleback listing and MANY OTHER video "shorts" we've found and posted.

Speaking of Saddleback Kids Videos...

Here's the direct link to their YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/playli...7hXEKTV4qQnIeCe-p6Ws

Not all the videos are the same style or quality, but there are a lot of good ones to pick from.

TIP: When sharing a YouTube video online or by email, click the SHARE option on the video in YouTube and copy that specific URL. 

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Hi Neil - thank you for these suggestions - greatly appreciated. We're planning to connect w/ our families via Zoom, which seems to work well for us. I love Beth Tobin's approach, as well, and hope to incorporate several of her ideas. Very much hope that you and your family are well - thank you for all that you do - D

Great idea, Debbie. Kids are missing their friends (parents too!) so online face to face is a great idea.

Here's a thought:

  • Invite Zoom Families to watch a video or do an activity together BEFORE the Zoom get-together. Then use the Zoom Time for "show 'n tell." 

I've done a lot of Family Ministry and Young Adult ministry over the years and one of the things I heard over and over again was that parents were MORE LIKELY to do at-home learning when they knew their PEERS were doing it too, and when they knew we'd be talking about it in our get-togethers. 

Second thought:

  • Invite older members to peek in on your Zoom meetings. My wife and I have encountered several "live alone" senior adults in our condo complex who are struggling with the ISOLATION. One old fellow admitted to walking his dog a lot just to come across people to talk to!
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Christian education at home doesn't have to mean "curriculum." It can simply be suggesting good available resources, like movies, and then inviting people to comment/discuss them among themselves, or online via Zoom meeting or via your church's Facebook page.

More Movie Suggestions

See my three previous movie suggestions which kids can enjoy at home with parents.

For youth and adults:

The Netflix miniseries "MESSIAH" is a fascinating drama about a would-be messiah, the lives he changes, and the questions he raises about faith. In the first episode, he appears preaching during the Syrian war. Eventually, he comes to D.C.  Lots of discussion potential. Ten episodes.  Here's the wiki and episode guide.  Free on Netflix.

For adults:

"The Two Popes"  ...award winning movie featuring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce portraying how Pope Francis came to replace the retiring Pope Benedict, their interactions and clash of differences, backgrounds, and personalities. Even as a Protestant, I found this super interesting and relevant. Here's the wiki. Free on Netflix.


Don't skip Rotation.org's Teaching with Secular Movies article and discussion. It has many suggestions.



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Neil MacQueen posted:

Great idea, Debbie. Kids are missing their friends (parents too!) so face to face is important.

Here's a thought:

  • Invite Zoom Families to watch a video or do an activity together BEFORE the Zoom get-together. Then use the Zoom Time for "show 'n tell." 

Movie night followed by a group Zoom meetup discussion  (or even one-on-one facetime conversation) is a great idea! Check out the easily available secular movies suggested here, and then add your own suggestions! Teaching with Secular Movies

We used Facebook Live as that is a format our church is familiar with and interaction was really, really important to us. However, the lag presented challenges for us and it meant we couldn't show kids or let kids lead the way we would in person. I repeated their comments and reacted when I saw the comment which the kids enjoyed. The pacing was just awkward. However, feedback from parents was excellent. I just want to consider ways to do it better.  Do you have suggestions for using Facebook Live videos in a way that incorporates comments but doesn't drag? 

 

 

I also struggled last week finding a way to connect with my kids from church in a creative way and received some good ideas from others and some that did not quite match what my goal was. What I learned though, was that this is all very new and that there is a learning curve. Churches are all at different levels with their numbers, technology, staff, resources, finances, volunteers, and experiences. But the one thing they have, especially since they were compelled enough to try, is passion to keep their kids engaged in learning about Jesus. Yes, our first attempts are probably not going to be the best, and I am thankful for the resources in this platform that will help for the the next attempt.

Lynda Miller, Bushkill, PA

Edited for brevity and topic. 

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Good reminders, Lynda. Hopefully these experiences with technology will help churches move forward and not fall farther behind.

You wrote: “I received some good ideas from others and some that did not quite match what my goal was.”

What were the good and not so good ideas, and what were your goals?

Hi Neil,

One of my goals with teaching children about Jesus is to have them experience the story and engaged in their learning; therefore, I prefer activities where the kids are doing something. The ideas that I found most helpful were ones including:

  • putting a bag of supplies together for parents to pick up that include a project for them to work on
  • using song videos with motions to songs they already know so they can dance to them
  • including a short YouTube video clip of the Bible Story
  • offering a craft to make or an interactive prayer station experience.

For my lesson time this week I am going to try filming myself telling the story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man who was let down through the roof through doodles from the God’s Big Picture curriculum that the kids can draw at the same time.

I am thinking of then having them make a diorama of the scene and record themselves reenacting the story and send them to me or post them on our church’s Facebook page.

Finally, I am going to get them a map of the U.S for them to color a state each day and pray for those who are sick in that state for that day.

I do not prefer videos where people are just talking to the kids and the kids are only watching, but I also understand that this is a learning process. There are many small churches with limited means for high production and many churches that are staffed strictly with volunteers who are also involved in other jobs. As someone who spent 18 years as a mobile church with limited resources and volunteer staff, I am grateful for those who do what they can to teach our kids about Jesus and share His heart of love.

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Video Clip "production values" anybody can achieve without any tech experience and with a small budget:

  1. Keep it short and energetic.
  2. Use a Bluetooth wireless headset wirelessly connected to your cellphone to make your voice sound "close" and clear when recording, instead of distant or "canned."
  3. Make sure the lighting is bright by supplementing it with extra lamps positioned to the sides of the camera.
  4. Make sure what's in the frame and background is colorful and visually interesting. 
  5. Stabilize your video by using a tripod and having someone else shoot it other than yourself.
  6. Practice and do multiple versions, then pick the best one.
  7. Make sure your video link works! ...and put the links in multiple places (webpages, FB pages and emails).

 We only get one chance to make a first impression, and people do judge books by their covers. Our members are used to decent-looking online presentations. These seven suggestions will help you meet their expectations and keep their eyeballs.

Cost?  The tripod, Bluetooth headset, and clamp lamps are each under $30. They are things we have been recommending Sunday Schools have on-hand here in the 21st Century. Lots of uses in our teaching and future programming.

More About Audio:  Do not expect your camera or cellphone's microphone to make you sound good if you are more than 3 feet away from it when you speak. In fact, many cellphone microphones are designed to CANCEL OUT noise that it deems "in the background."  If you want space and want to be able to move around, connect a common Bluetooth headset with built-in microphone to your cellphone and you have an "instant wireless mic."  

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