My job at NorthPointe Christian is to help teachers carry out our mission of “equipping students to impact the world for Christ.” As part of the job, I wander and observe our preschool on up through high school classes.
Earlier this semester, a parent alerted me to a fascinating assignment taking place in Maria Joaquin’s second grade Spanish Immersion classroom. Maria’s letter home, as the parent showed me, explained that the class was about to begin a social studies unit on “Community and Citizenship.” She then set out the goals: (a) why people live in communities, (b) what is in them, and (c) how is one different from another.
Sounds heavy for children this young, right? Maria countered that question by adding that the project would “get real” by seeking to create “our own community in 2nd grade.”
Each student needed to create a cardboard box building at home - with the help of their families - that would contribute to the making of a community and improve the community. The student creations would be hung in the hallway. But prior to that, students would present their boxes to the class, with each maker answering three thought provoking questions about his/her building:
1. Why is this building important in our community?
2. How could this building be used to impact the world for Christ?
3. How might the Spanish language be used in this building?
The individual results were captivating, the buildings together even more so, as they so perfectly captured the imagination, inviting viewers into a vibrant community, just as the project intended.
I asked Maria why she chose to do this assignment. Her response:
“I wanted to make what they were talking about in class to come alive and be relatable to their lives.”
She mentioned that the students had talked about what it meant to be a good citizen; they talked about “how it begins in family, neighborhood, city, and goes out further into all the world.”
In that discussion Maria said the students “talked about what God expects of us as Christians and how to be a good citizen in all these communities” and “finding similarities and differences among these kinds of communities.”
The parent who gave me the heads-up on the assignment also expressed why she thought it worthwhile: “I thought I would pass along how much I love this assignment Maria is doing with the Spanish Immersion 2nd graders and the questions that go along with the project. Today, I am thankful for the education my girls are getting...that Jesus is the center, and they are having to think from a very young age how Jesus can impact our community.”
As I recall all aspects of this building assignment, I see the benefits of a Christian education in deed. Indeed!
“Equipping students to impact their world for Jesus Christ”
--NorthPointe Christian’s mission statement
I liked NorthPointe's mission statement 20 years ago and still do.
I frequently use it as a quick test of activities I plan in teaching young people to use technology. I ask myself, “Is this helping them to grow in a way that they can better impact their world for Jesus?” It has also guided us throughout the implementation of NPC’s one-to-one MacBook program as we consider how technology might or might not be helping us accomplish our mission.
In my role as NorthPointe’s Technology Integration Specialist, I have a front row seat to observe how young people use technology.
They are always connected: hanging out, doing homework, sitting in class. Their music, their photos, their friends--it seems as if their whole life is in“the cloud.” It’s not the device; it’s the connection that matters. The kids stay connected even when most of us are sleeping. I’m no longer surprised when I get an email sent at 3 AM from a student who wants access to a website from which they’ve been blocked. They just have to connect to their peers and what's out there. It’s their reality, their world.
As parents and teachers, we tend to see the device as a problem. Some of us want to control it: take it away, limit screen time, block access to apps and websites, etc. Others of us throw up our hands and are tempted to do nothing. We know we need to protect our kids, e.g., “Don’t touch the stove. Look before crossing the street.” But controlling devices seems harder, more confusing, and constantly changing.
Even though our children are skilled in using this digital world, we still need to help them navigate it. They need our help to figure out how to impact their world and how the virtual world is impacting them. They need our guidance in discerning right from wrong, good from bad, what builds up and what destroys. They need us to show them how to interact with others appropriately, how to protect themselves, and how to use their time wisely. Like most lessons in life, helping our kids navigate a digital world takes time and effort.
Start with prayer.
It seems like a Sunday School answer, but the Lord gives wisdom to those that ask.
Then set age appropriate boundaries. Internet filters are a wise place to start, but internet filters aren’t perfect, so I suggest having younger kids use their devices where you can occasionally look at the screen.
Like it or not, our children become older, more independent, and need to make wise choices with no teachers or parents around. We need to get them ready for those choices. You can use something like Covenant Eyes which is a great tool for Internet accountability.
Accountability needs to be a two-way street (otherwise it’s just spying), with sons accountable with their dads if possible. As they grow in maturity and in their ability to discern, you can give them more freedom. When they fail, we need to help them learn from their mistakes.
Talking with kids about relationships has never been easy, but the digital age makes it even more critical. Unfortunately, girls need to be told that they should not send nude pictures of themselves to boys; boys need to be told that it is not appropriate to ask for them. It’s good for all of us to remember that a thoughtless comment or an ill advised photo, once posted, is beyond our ability to control and could have consequences we never intended.
Help your children learn that not everything in the digital world is as it appears. That cute 17-year-old guy who just Snapchatted your daughter may really be a 40-year-old predator using a photo he scammed online. Online predators will use guilt and shame to pull your kids into deeper trouble. Build trust with your kids so that they can come to you even if they have made a mistake.
Lastly, model appropriate digital behavior for them. How much time do you spend in social media? Do you text while driving? Do you put your phone away when they need your attention? It’s knowing that what we practice is what students most imitate, which includes how we use our devices.
Parenting has never been easy; at the forefront of the digital age, it sometimes seems even more complex. Yet the digital world is a resource we have to steward.
Even though your kids may know more about the latest digital social trends, they still need so much that they can only get from you.
Fortunately, you don’t have to understand binary code to pass along what matters in life.