Rise of the Machines

Harness the power of technology in your children’s programs.

Today’s children learn in different ways, thanks to the omnipresence of technology. Being plugged in is having an affect on how children receive, process, and recall information.

While this “rewiring” is still being studied and quantified, consider how technology has changed daily life over the past 10 years: smart phones, streaming media, apps. The average child gets their first phone at age 10. And according to Ofcom, the communications regulator in the United Kingdom, for the first time children ages 5 to 15 are spending more time online than watching TV.

According to a 2012 Psychology Today article, “the ubiquitous use of internet search engines is causing children to become less adept at remembering things and more skilled at remembering where to find things. Given the ease with which information can be found these days, it only stands to reason that knowing where to look is becoming more important for children than actually knowing something.”

It isn’t surprising, then, that today’s children process information differently—and have different expectations for what products should deliver. Generation Z is also known as Linksters, because they have been linked to technology from the start.

According to Carla Barnhill, senior director of product development and product design at Sparkhouse, it’s impossible to understate the impact of technology on the way kids learn.

“For the most part, that impact is positive. Children have direct access to so many avenues for learning, whether it’s watching how-to-videos on YouTube or discovering new books through Tumblebooks or playing creative games like Minecraft. That’s given them agency in their own learning—they can follow a passion without having to wait for someone to drive them to the library,” she says.

“Of course, there needs to be balance with other forms of learning and other experiences,” she adds, noting there are tremendous downsides to this process if the child is left unsupervised.

Many content providers have responded to new technology by incorporating it into their products. For example, B&H Kids offers The Big Picture Interactive Bible for Kids, which lets young readers view images in an augmented-reality format via an app.

“We try to find a balance between using technology and not being dependent on it,” says Barnhill. “We are well aware of—and share—the legitimate concerns about the amount of screen time children have during the day. So, we have been hesitant to develop products that push kids back onto screens. Instead, we use what we know about child development and faith formation to use technology as a powerful tool.”

—Lora Schrock