For the past year, I’ve teamed with our district web master to take our Internet Safety workshop on the road in an effort to make it accessible to parents as well as teachers. Besides the evening regional face-to-face workshops, we also host the 2WebWatchers blog, an open invitation to teachers, parents, and the community at large to join in the conversation of best ways to help students learn to use the Internet safely, effectively, and ethically.
As part of the presentation, we showcase how teachers are harnessing the power of Web 2.0 to take learning beyond the walls of the classroom – while teaching students the protocols to keep them safe from others, from each other, and from themselves. A concern voiced by some parents is that their elementary student has little access to the Internet during the school day due to lack of computers in the classroom and limited access to computer lab time. Therefore social networking is not woven into their child’s school day. They ask for recommendations of safe social networking sites their child might use at home.
My question to parents is “Is there a specific interest or goal for bringing your child into the world of social networking? For instance, do you wish to:
- create an online communication tool for your child, family and friends that can be accessed, expanded, archived over the years?” If the answer is “yes,” then I recommend creating a blog, using an ad-free program such as Google’s Blogger. An excellent example is All About Amy. I first learned about Amy’s blog via a post from her father. I can’t help thinking in the years to come how much Amy will value being able to look back at conversations with her immediate family, relatives, friends, and all those who helped her on her journey to becoming a reflective writer. All About Amy is a great model for parents as co-pilots!
- provide your child, age 5-8, with access to a safe, international audience and a window into other cultures? If the answer is “yes,” then I recommend Panwapa – Where Kids Shape the World. This site is an excellent introduction to social networking! For a starter, the only “personal information” required to create a profile is your child’s country. Sponsored by Sesame Street, Panwapa allows children to visit other members around the world, thus learning about other cultures and languages as well as world geography. Members are walked through steps to create an avatar. (Note: Panwapa “card” shown is mine.) With pre-scripted messages and a built in voice-over directions, Panwapa is accessible to pre-readers. The Care Giver and Teacher Guides are also helpful. A safe FREE site with educational value and no ads (other than funders’ logos). Appropriate for ages 5+
For parents who are curious about several of the better-known social networking sites for elementary students and ‘tweens, here is some background information:
- Club Penguin – Brought to you by Disney, and, although it’s possible to join and play for free, more options are available to paying members. Site is heavy on consumerism, but does offer levels of parental control. A recent parent review published to Good Housekeeping Magazine, Undercover in a Kids Online World, is an interesting insight into the “good” vs. “bad” of this site. Parents should definitely be co-pilots on this site and provide guidance and explanations about how to deal with unfriendly messages. Appropriate for ages 8+
- Webkinz – Requires purchase of a Webkinz pet in order to get “pet code” required for becoming a member. (As a parent who not too many years back, combed San Francisco in search of a Cabbage Patch doll for daughter, I can hardly be critical of need to purchase a Webkinz pet.) This site is all about consumerism, which could possibly teach children lessons in saving. Definitely needs a parent co-pilot to monitor unfriendly messages. Appropriate for 8+
- Imbee – “Sorry to announce that this site is down indefinitely.” Too bad because this site offered a parent-monitored introduction to blogging. Appropriate for ages 11+
For parents wondering where to go in order to find reviews of kid-friendly social network sites, I recommend Common Sense Media.
Any insights from readers would be most welcome!
Note: Webkinz image copied from http://sydemkate.com/Images/webkinz3.gif