This post is by regular contributor Cath Oehlman aka SquiggleMum.
There’s no escaping the fact that technology is being introduced to our children earlier and earlier. My four year old daughter is already using an interactive white board (IWB) in her prep classroom and loves finding animal info online at home, while my two year old son is quite au fait with an iPad.
We teach our children how to navigate their way through the world, step by step. As they gain confidence and independence, we allow them more freedom. The same should be true of the online world. We need to teach our kids to navigate (literally) their way through the big, scary interwebs – step by step.
Have you ever thought about what your child might need to know? When children begin using computers purposefully, their main drives are likely to be to communicate with others or to gain information. With you by their side, here are 5 baby steps that will set your child on the right path:
1. Identifying search terms. The internet is a rich source of constantly updated information, and as a result our kids will never know encyclopaedias – other than Wikipedia. When they need to find something out, they are most likely to Google it. Teach your child what to type into a search engine. (Try this post on googling with kids for ideas on how to go about it).
2. Following an information trail. Help your child to recognise clickable text and images (hyperlinks) and follow the links most relevant to their search. Also show them how to return back to a more useful page or site. These are crucial skills.
3. Responding to the uh-oh. I think it is really important that we teach our kids how to get out of a site quickly if they get that uh-oh feeling. Make sure they know which is the escape key, and how to click on the “back” button. Even with all of the safety programs in place to protect your family, some sites which shouldn’t be seen by little eyes are still accessible and may be stumbled upon inadvertently. (This is also why I think computers should be in main living spaces, with adults adults around, and NOT in bedrooms).
4. Becoming critical consumers. Advertising is e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e online. Kids need some guidance as they attempt to sort through the barrage of images and information. At times it is even hard for adults to discern whether something is actually an ad.
5. Not sharing. Set ground rules early on about what should NOT be shared online. While this may not be relevant in the early years, be aware that children in mid-primary school are participating in online “closed” chatrooms. Microsoft has further recommendations for internet usage for 2-10 year olds.
We cannot predict the remarkable ways technology will evolve and change in the coming years, nor imagine the digital future our children will live in. What we can do is equip them to deal with current technology, and encourage the development of their thinking skills and common sense so that they will be able to tackle whatever the future brings.
How do you feel about the fact that your child will be accessing the internet at such a young age? What else would you add to my suggested list of important virtual baby-steps??