Tip #19 – Offer Guidance and Independence When Kids Research Online

Sep 16

“I need to look something up on the internet.”  Ooooh, how I hate to hear these words from my kids.  Now that school is back in full swing, they’ll be throwing that at me more than ever.  My reactionary, old-school, protective impulse is to cry out: What’s wrong with the library?”  But no.  I must allow my children to learn using all these newfangled tools. In fact, I know that teachers are mandated to include online research opportunities for kids in their curriculum.

So I bite my tongue.  With the same trepidation that I allow my 11-year-old son to ride his bike to school, I have to let him and his younger brothers have some autonomy to travel online too.  In both cases, they’re likely to get a bit lost (today, said son rode in the opposite direction of the friend’s house to whom he was visiting. Yikes – glad I was there to set him straight!)

With some hands-on guidance I allow my boys to research inside the world wild web.  Here, however, are some useful tips that I follow to ensure they find the topic that they need, rather than a topic that will elicit broccoli choking questions at the dinner table:

  • Start the topic search together, offering ideas as to what kinds of words will help them find what they’re looking for.  For example: don’t let them type in cougar if they’re doing a project on wild cats.
  • Remind your child that Wikipedia is not the only source of information online and encourage them to find websites that are written in more kid-friendly language.  For example: National Geographic Kids and Yahooligans offer great info for students.
  • Try different search engines. Google is great, but Bing and Yahoo will offer different results that may be more attuned to what they’re looking for.
  • Remind your child to be specific in their search.  The more description they type in, the narrower the results will be.
  • Consider your safety setting on the computer your child is using.  Is it set for children? Or is he or she using your personal laptop that has no filters?  You won’t want to leave him alone for long on a computer that does not censor its google results.
  • Add a minus sign before a topic word to indicate that you do not want any search results that relate to that word.  For example, a search for Mars (the planet) should be followed by a -chocolate to prevent any results on the popular chocolate bar fro popping up.
  • Remind your kids that there are a lot of things on the internet that are inappropriate for children – and adults, for that matter.  Tell them that you, as a parent, also have to be careful about what you search for online because there are images and pieces of information on the web that are not suitable for your viewing either.
  • Encourage them to be critical of the source of the online information.  Is it a reliable source?  National Geographic Kids is going to be more reliable than Macsfavoriteanimals.com.

Of course, if the online sources fall short of expect ions, you can always visit the local library.  That’s my old-school self talking.

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