Teach Your Children: Finding the Best Web Sites for Kids
by Aparna Joshi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Children are not kids anymore; they are ``young people."
If you understand the difference, you will also understand why mere entertainment is no longer enough for youngsters
on the World Wide Web today. Of course, the focus and the popularity still rest with commercial sites tied to brand names, or with keep-busy sites–those that keep the child involved in coloring and counting and out of harm's way.
But there are also sites that take the next generation more seriously, realizing particularly that this group knows more about computers and will be more than ready to take on the Internet
when they reach adulthood. Then again, considering the fact that the number of children using the Net can only rise, the threat of persuasive powers, ideological, commercial or cultural, is vast and can only be countered by a
sagacious screening of sites by parents, teachers and caregivers.
Web guides are a safe way of getting into children's sites. One of the more user-friendly locations is Berit's Best Sites for Children. It gives links to several educational as well as entertaining sites for kids. But the more innovative is Childnet International, which develops interactive projects to promote new media among children, widening access to those who are marginalized, working at the strategic level on initiatives to protect children in the arena of new technology. Another site that offers a variety of Internet resources for young people is Children's House,a program to involve children and governments in evaluating and improving the local environment. In addition, it also monitors child rights, takes up projects on issues such as ``growing up in cities" and has created a children's house in cyberspace, where they can explore on their own.
A comprehensive resource and guide for young ones, their parents and teachers together is Kid Links. It takes you to more than 700 great sites for children and links caregivers and parents to educational sites on art, literature, the planet and people. Barbara Feldman's site takes kids seriously. She has interactive art adventures, surfing calendars and innovative methods of teaching, besides the usual directory of topics.
Clubs and communities
There are literally hundreds of children's communities in the virtual world, but there are a select few that open up children to the world they will enter when grown up, involving them in real issues and seeking active cooperation. Kids' Space Connection proclaims itself to be an international communication for young ambassadors, in the process educating about the Net itself in an appealing form, plus offering child-specific search engines and sister sites. It is probably the first site to offer different menu frames for left-handed and right-handed surfers. Interestingly, though this site is American, some parts are translated into Japanese, to foster literacy, artistic expression and cross-cultural understanding between the world's children.
Within this community, there is a site called Hop Pop Town, a special project for children aged 3-10 that encourages them to improvise musical sequences. Innovative communities where children of the world can interact also exist at World Kids Network and Kid City Virtual Village.
Then there is the Yahooligans! Web guide, which offers Web cams from many remote places. It allows users to check out a part of the city of Karlskrona in the southeast corner of Sweden or the Frazier Park School Playground in Pine Mountain Club, Calif. You can also take a random leap on Web site roulette. Yahooligans! also offers help on homework, chats with celebrities, Net events and Headbone Zone, with separate chat rooms for children and teenagers.
There are many organizations with special sites that include something of interest for their youngest fans. The KidzHitz channel of Net Radio is an example, where the genre of children's music is explored and children can choose the type of music they want to hear. Apart from those which promote religious and political values or stoke sport and movie fervor, there is the interesting Woodcraft Folk Home Page, which is essentially an educational movement for children, designed to develop self-confidence and activity in society, with an aim to build a world based on equality, friendship, peace and cooperation.
Besides encouraging participation in their activities worldwide, Woodcraft gives plenty of scope to create and share environmental resources and local self-help programs. A different experiment is the Children's Ombudsman in Sweden, which safeguards the rights and interests of children as written down in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Web site includes information for children who have questions about their rights and obligations in society.
It is with the media that the children can truly experiment on the Internet and come into their own. Several such sites have come onto the scene in the United States and Europe and are
worth the effort and time invested. One of the best sites in this category is Children's Express ,
a place where kids produce journalism and where young people between ages 8 and 18 report on such issues as why teachers can turn a blind eye to drugs and why suicide is the second biggest kill of youths. Children can, on this site, express themselves about issues that matter to them. They are heard and responded to by many big names in the world of journalism.
AtCRAYON children can create their own newspaper, with professional help on how online publications should be created, modified, edited and put up on the Web. It offers a wide array of international headlines and matter to choose from newswires and radio news, complete with step-by-step instructions and news links. Children are also given links to major newspapers in Canada and Britain as well as other English-language papers in the world, such as the Jerusalem Post and This Week in Germany.
For those with a flair for creative writing, there is the Stone Soup ezine where young writers can submit quality fiction. It also gives plenty of information and links to topics not much touched by children, taking up projects on medieval history and plant life, in formats that are interesting to younger viewers.
The British Broadcasting Corporation has its own niche for kids at the CBBC
where children roam virtual gem galleries, visit online zoos, pore over virtual encyclopedias, try out science experiments and not least, read the latest news of the
As a blueprint for a kids' radio show, New York Kids provides a rich source of production ideas. N.Y. Kids is an innovative radio show for the 8-14 age group and its site is interactive, involving children in fun and games that test knowledge and challenge curiosity. Rules listed for participants wanting to join in the chat forum ``Talk Time" are categorical–``No swearing. No lying. No saying mean things about others. A Web site producer will read your message and if it's OK it will be posted."
All said and done, some amount of monitoring of juvenile surfing is always needed, although the way it should be done will depend on the mutual trust and understanding between the child and the caregiver. For the benefit of parents, teachers and guardians there are sites such as Cyberangels, an international safety program with the goal to find and report illegal material online. It also educates families about online safety and how to enjoy cyberspace together. Cyberangels also works with schools and libraries. The Internet Watch Foundation on the other hand, addresses the problem of illegal material on the Internet. Its aim is to enhance the enormous potential of the Net to inform, educate, entertain and conduct business, by hindering transmission of illegal material, particularly child pornography, and by encouraging the classification of legal material. You can also make instant reports on violations to this site.
Ninety-six percent of the world's population does not yet have access to the Internet, but of the 4% that does, an astounding 10 million minds are children. This figure, according to a 1998 Newsweek survey, is expected to triple by 2002. The Net has risen to the occasion, filling the gap for quality material for children. It is now up to the children to decide what the Net will be for them–a toy or a tool.
Aparna Joshi is a freelance journalist based in Gujarat, India.