In his book Net Smart, Howard Rheingold writes that for any of us to become knowledgeable connected world users and citizens, each of us needs to develop and continually strengthen five areas of digital literacy. People who use the web wisely and with good results develop fundamental skill in five literacy areas — attention, participation, collaboration, network awareness, and critical consumption of content.
As the lives of children, online and off, grow more complex by the day, we adults spend a good deal of our time helping them learn more about the lives they will live in a 21st Century world. We are accomplished at mentoring children in the parts of their lives that are offline, but often teachers and parents simply react to digital life problems rather than build fundamental digital literacy skills that will help children avoid problems. For kids to really be prepared to develop the five literacies that Rheingold describes, they need to build up a foundation of knowledge about the connected world environment.
How is it that children, pre-adolescents, and teens can understand how to use digital devices, consume digital culture at an early age, and even figure out digital device problems for their parents, but have only the barest knowledge about how to relate thoughtfully to people online, take complete advantage of digital resources, and solve problems rather than create them? The reason? We adults have so often put the cart before the horse. We give children their own personal devices or let them borrow ours — gadgets connect in various ways to the entire world, albeit different ones at different ages — and only gradually go about teaching the fundamental literacy aspects later on and especially when something goes wrong.
To be smart, savvy, and successful 21st Century learners, children, who make lots of mistakes in the process of growing up, must be mentored by adults. By guiding our youngest children to be mindful of and assimilate a body of information — call it Kids’ Digital Literacy 101 — we help them construct a solid foundation that supports more complex digital world literacies. Much of what children need to understand doesn’t even require a digital device — just parents and teachers repeating the fundamentals over and over, connecting them and reconnecting them to 21st Century life. These conversations should begin before any child has even quasi-independent use of a digital device.
In school Kids’ Digital Literacy 101 should be a part of the day-to-day curriculum, even for the youngest children, and to be successful it’s best not to segregate the ideas out as digital citizenship. At home these should be dinner table or family meeting conversation topics. Too often, when digital problems occur in fourth, fifth, or sixth grades, the root of the problem goes way back, even to preschool, where children did not begin to develop a basic understanding of the ethics, moral decisions, rules, and expectations, while somewhat more complex online than off, do not change in one place or the other.
Below are my suggestions for connected world Kids’ Digital Literacy 101, ideas that can be emphasized and re-emphasized again and again in the early grades. Each concept can be reworded, repeated, built upon, and learned in tandem with the curriculum and the values in an institution’s mission. Those ideas for the youngest children can be repeated for students who are older.
I’ve created a PDF of the ideas, with checkboxes so people can keep track or the first few times they address the topics. These can be handed out to parents and teachers.
Prekindergarten – Grade 2 Kids’ Digital LIteracy Ideas
- The rules that govern each person’s activity in the classroom and at home — being nice, no name calling, helping others, being honest — are the same rules to use on digital devices and computers.
- Sleep is important for our learning. Each night when we sleep, our brains organize and save the information we learned during the day. Digital devices right before bed make the brain less efficient.
- Lots of places exist in online and offline form — libraries, schools, games, Legos, sports, places where we watch movies and videos, and much more. How interesting to explore and compare online libraries with a school or public library as a part of the daily curriculum.
- Apps are mini-computer programs that create places where people can and work or play. With the right information anyone can create an app.
- Ask permission before buying/trying a new app.
- Ask permission to take a picture of another person.
- A person’s picture cannot be shared without permission, even if you took the picture.
- When someone talks to you, it is most polite to look at them and put down any digital device that you are using.
Grades 3-5 Digital Life Foundation Concepts
- All of the PreK – Grade 2 ideas.
- A lot of what you see on the web may not be true. Things on the web can be excellent, good, OK, or terrible. Use unfamiliar materials carefully.
- Different types of online communication leave digital footprints. Everyone leaves them everywhere. The trick is to make sure that a person leaves mostly good and interesting ones. Even likes and shares leave digital footprints.
It’s not just kids and their devices that leave digital footprints. Adults also leave them all day long as they work and play (credit cards, online buying, using web pages, driving our cars, and much more).
- Digital footprints never go away. They are permanent, out there somewhere (that’s why you want mostly interesting footprints). Even shares and likes are digital footprints and they are permanent. There are no erasers in the connected world.
- When a person makes something up and claims it’s true, lots of other people usually find out about it.
- Secrets almost never remain secret — online and offline.
- Just because you feel like you are alone online, you aren’t. It’s like when you are at your house and feel like you are alone, but there is someone around in another room.
- If you can’t say it face-to-face, you can’t say it online. The online stuff lacks human cues like facial expressions and body movements so it’s really easy for something to be misinterpreted.
- Sometimes people receive messages and misunderstand the meaning that the sender intended. Digital communication makes it a lot easier to be misinterpreted.
- No one is anonymous. This is a concept that often encourages people to make terrible mistakes.
- Privacy is about keeping some things private. Deciding what to share and what to not to share is tricky. Helping other people maintain their privacy is as important as maintaining yours.
- A photo that feels great for you to share may not be good because another person does not want to share it.
- The Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) is the reason for the under/over 13 rule.
How can you incorporate Kid Digital literacy 101 — into the classes, activities, learning expectations and conversations in your family or learning community? Are there ideas to add to my list? Hand this list out to teaching teams, book club members, or other groups with parents. Brainstorm ways to include the ideas in the existing curriculum (no this is not another subject to teach with new lessons to learn — just a few ideas to incorporate),
By getting serious about helping children master the most fundamental information about digital life, we help them shape themselves into responsible community members who not only consume but also, as Howard Rheingold notes, participate as knowledgeable literate 21st Century citizens.