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Tracking Attendance with a Palm Pilot

Are you tired of writing out or printing nametags every week for all of your kids? Are you looking for a new and easy way to keep track of your attendance in your children’s ministries? I’m Jason Yon, Associate Children’s Pastor at Grace Covenant Church in Cornelius, NC. This article will discuss a cutting-edge idea to track attendance in the children’s ministries of your church while keeping the work to a minimum.  I first saw this at work at Southeastern College in Lakeland, FL with their chapel attendance. We decided to research it and see how it would work in a children’s church setting.

First, let’s describe how the system works as the children are dropped off in the children’s ministry area. As each child enters the back of the room, he goes straight to the portable fence” there (The fence is part of a construction theme.), finds and un-clips his laminated nametag from the fence. After finding the nametag, he takes it to the worker nearby who is holding the Palm Pilot; the worker scans the barcode on the back of the nametag and hands it back to the child. At the end of each service, we pass buckets to collect the nametags and put them back on the fence later in the week. During the week, we will hotsync (connect) the Palm Pilot to the office computer, and we instantly have all of our attendance from the entire weekend stored on the computer. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? It really is!

Let me tell you a little bit about how we prepared for this:

– The Software Needed-

We already had the software we needed to pull this off. We use Pendragon Forms Manager 3.2. You can find this software at their website and download a free trial at www.pendragonsoftware.com. The cost for this software is $149. We had to do a lot of reading and calling places to find out how to make this work the way that we wanted it to, but if you need help with setting up the software and the Palm Pilot, I will be glad to help. There may be other programs out there that would do the same thing, but this is the one we’ve used successfully.

– The Palm Pilot-

The Palm Pilot that we use for scanning the barcodes is a special Palm Pilot with a barcode scanner on the top of it. There are a few different styles that have this and they now may have a separate scanner that attaches to the top of any PDA in the extra port. Just like any other Palm Pilot, the ones with the scanner all come with different sizes of memory as well. We have the Symbol SPT-1500 with 4MB of memory. We store 4 different services at a time, and hot-sync once a week. Each service has it’s own designated file in the palm pilot with all 350 kids at our church stored in each file. We haven’t had any problems with not having enough memory, but this is the only thing that we use this Palm Pilot for. You can search for this Palm and other ones like it on the web. The one we have runs about $350.

– The Name Tags and Laminator–

We have a permanent laminated nametag with a clip on the top for each child. We went through a trial & error process to find ones that worked well. We started out with a no-heat laminator. After running a whole sheet of nametags through the laminator, we then had to cut all of them with scissors. We also found that the lamination with the cool laminator was not strong enough to support the clip; after we punched the hole for the clip, the nametag ripped too easily. We ended up buying a heat laminator which uses little pouches for each name tag. This works great! We bought the strongest, thickest laminating pouches we could find (10 mil). However, because we bought the 10-mil pouches, we had to be sure to buy a special laminating machine that could put out enough heat to melt that thick of laminate. We bought our laminator for around $100 from www.laminationstation.com. We also buy our laminate pouches, slot-punch, and clips from them.

We use a very inexpensive program called “Labelmaker” ($20) to print the nametags, www.elibrium.com/products/myl/index.htm. This same program also prints our barcodes on labels that we stick to the back of each nametag. We also put a colored sticker (different color for each grade) on the back of each nametag before putting it in the laminating pouch to run it through the machine. The colored dot on the backside of the nametag makes it possible to arrange the nametags on the fence by the grade of the child; each grade is then also arranged on the rack alphabetically. In addition, you will need clips for each tag and a slot-punch to create the clip hole. These can also be ordered from Lamination Station. The slot-punch is around $30 and the cost of the pouches and clips depend on how many you buy at one time.

– The Fence –

We use a fence to clip our nametags on for the kids to pick them up. We chose a fence because we already have a Construction theme. It has wheels on it so we can move the fence around the room and out of the way when needed. I have seen wire mesh attached to walls for this same purpose. Be creative with how you hang your nametags. It can actually bring added decoration to your room.

– The Cost –

This is what you all are asking. The bottom line–is this system worth it for my children’s ministry? The cost is about $630 to start up the system ($350 palm pilot, $150 software, $100 laminator, $30 slot punch), plus shipping, plus the cost of your fence, plus about 25 cents per name tag for the paper, laminating pouches, printer ink, labels for barcodes, stickers for grades, and clips. We have 350 kids in K-5th grade in our database. Not all of those kids come at one time. We run between 60-100 kids in each of the 4 services. This system works really well for us. If we grow to 150-175 kids in each service, we would need to add a second palm pilot to avoid a back-up at the door of kids waiting to get their nametags scanned.

I trust this helps you. Please, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call me- 704-892-8005, or email me at jason@gracecovenant.org.

© by Pastor Jason Yon
Children’s Pastor

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