In an ever growing digital world, children can spend a long time online these days. Right from a very early age they have access to their parents’ smart phones and tablets, and quickly learn how to navigate things that we as adults can only wonder at. Yet a recent survey of parents of 5-11 year olds found that “only half of parents feel equipped to teach e-safety at home.”¹.
So who’s responsibility is it to teach these young, inquisitive minds to explore within safe boundaries, communicate well and leave a positive footprint in the virtual world?
All my years of classroom experience convinces me that the best results come when teachers and parents work together. Never has that been more important than on the issue of children’s safety. The challenge for us as teachers is twofold; firstly, to move with the ever changing digital age, and find safe resources and practices that will excite and engage children. Secondly, to keep parents informed and involved so that they can continue the conversation at home (or even better, for teachers to build upon what parents have already put in place!).
It’s easy to think that online safety only becomes an issue in KS2 or Secondary School but the truth is 90% of primary age children go online and 22% of children aged 3-4 watch TV programmes on devices other than a TV. Thankfully, there’s a wealth of resources out there to support the teaching of online safety and to help teachers embed it into their everyday practice, even from Early Years.
My personal favourites include ‘Digiduck’s Big Decision’ an app developed by Childnet International and internetmatters.org. It’s an entertaining tale designed to teach children about being a good online friend and is free to download to use in the classroom or to recommend to parents. The thinkuknow.co.uk website is a fantastic resource for teachers, parents and children to learn about staying safe online. There are also some brilliant Horrible Histories clips which take a humorous route into different online safety issues such as privacy setting or being careful about what content you post online.
So many of the difficulties our children face in staying safe are because the online world is just so vast. Within a few clicks it’s possible for them to go anywhere, share anything and meet anyone. But it’s also encouraging to know that there are really simple things that we can do as educators and parents to make their online experience safe. Mobile phone and broadband providers have excellent information for parents about setting up parental controls on devices and organisations such as internetmatters.org or Childnet International are there to help with loads of practical advice right from 0 up to 11 years old.
Video from internetmatters.org
Perhaps one of the quickest wins to keeping children safe both in school and at home is setting your search engine to a child friendly option such as Kid's Search or Swiggle so that children can learn the skills of going to exciting places online safely. Teaching children the importance of password controlled profiles and setting up user accounts for them that only allow access to approved apps, games and sites is another way to encourage independence within a safe environment.
Online teaching and learning tools can facilitate this really well, enabling children to search information safely as well as develop other online skills such as taking ownership of material they have created and understanding copyright. Or, learning the importance of relationships and communication in an online environment by posting comments in a blog or sending messages to real people within the school community.
Thinking back over my years of teaching, I’m not sure if I’ve ever truly mastered online safety with my classes as it’s like trying to land a plane on an ever moving runway. Yet when I see the possibilities that our children have through such a wide range of experiences, including using different devices, games, apps and online research, I’m inspired to keep finding those resources and practical ideas to make that learning environment the best that it can be for them. If we can get the parents actively involved in this, maybe this time we’ll land that plane!
¹ OnePoll / Internet Matters, Sept 2014