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Speaking to Digital Natives: Online Sidebar to “When Play Meets Prayer”

A look at the role of technology in children's space design

When it comes to technology, the question is no longer whether it should be incorporated into the design of children’s ministries, but how can it help guide children of all ages on their spiritual path.

“Imagine environments, real, imagined, and virtual, in which technology is placed within the context of the church,” says Sharon Exley, president of Chicago-based ArchitectureisFun Inc. “Spaces and places of meaning and message can be created in which today’s child can Tweet and text, alongside ‘conventional’ play, sharing their own spiritual upbringing with friends, parents and pastors.”

Calling today’s youth “digital natives,” Exley understands the importance of creating mission-based methodologies that will be passion led and technology supported.

“What this means is that our current methods and designed environments may not be as relevant as they once were, because today’s youth have been born with technologies as part of their everyday lives,” she says. “They are radically different than we were as children, taking in information extraordinarily fast and furiously. How can we reach them and help them connect spiritually? We can shift our pedagogies to ways that will be more effective and meaningful for 21st-century digital natives.”

ArchitectureisFun has created programs, games and interfaces that connect to the designed environment and its theme.

“We’re developing a set of media-based installations based on biblical stories like Noah and the Flood and Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors,” Exley says. “These use a range of video interactive elements often found at children’s museums where viewers are turned into participants. For example, when in front of a video screen, children engage with the animals that fall two by two on their arms.”

Jonathan Martin, owner of Tulsa, Okla.-based design firm Jonathan Martin Creative, recommends adding some motion lights to a lobby or check-in area to create fun patterns, as kids enjoy watching changing colors, and it keeps them looking forward to coming back.

Simlarly, Steve Dockery, owner of Benton, Tenn.-based Wonder Work Studios, has seen technology become a big part of many ministry rooms with interactive displays, touch screens and audio and video equipment that makes the room more of an educational experience.

“More technology will play a larger role as the years go on,” Dockery says. “Kids are so used to video games and interaction that it has become how they learn. I think five years from now, we will see even more electronics and automation in teaching the children.”

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