Regardless of where you live, "going back to school" has an entirely different connotation this year. Whether in-school, a hybrid model or completely remote, technology (and cybersafety) will play a prominent role for teachers and parents alike. Online safety education and civility -- once considered “supplemental” -- now need to be an integral part of the curriculum. And they need to begin at the earliest levels of education.
Teaching children to be good citizens has long been a staple of education. Now there is ample evidence that teaching good “digital citizenship” is essential as well. Being a good online citizen is more than being a safe Internet user; it’s about being responsible, smart and having respect for yourself and others. And, teaching and learning about good digital citizenship now, will help to prevent cyberbullying later on.
Given all the uncertainties and new preparations necessary for this school year, it is clear that teachers do not need “one more thing.” Therefore, it is important to point out that teaching good digital citizenship can easily become part of the regular curriculum and the daily life of the classroom, in-person or virtual. Teaching digital citizenship incorporates social-emotional learning, executive function, conceptual development and literacy. It reinforces basic literacy skills – through charting, story and discussion, word webs, vignettes, puppet plays, writing and connecting with older students, children build their “literate community” in preparation for becoming good digital citizens.
This year, especially with remote learning, parents may be leaning more than ever into “educator mode.” Here are some ideas on how teachers and parents can help children develop the skills they will need to be safe and responsible while on line.
Gather Information at the beginning of the school year to determine children’s range of knowledge about digital devices
Conduct concrete activities around online safety and civility
Ensure that children’s privacy is protected when they are in the virtual classroom or at home
Introduce or remind children of the importance of password protection
Finally, teachers and parents need to share information. Parents should be sure to get a copy of the school’s cybersafety rules so they can talk with their child about them and how the rules will be continued at home. To be successful, as in all school matters, families and schools need to work together to keep children safe and protected -- in both the real and virtual world.
To learn more about this topic, read Cybersafe Young Children: Teaching Internet Safety and Responsibility, K-3, written by Barbara Sprung, Merle Froschl, and Nancy Gropper, available from the Teachers College Press. See pages 63-67 for activities around permanence, privacy, and password protection; pages 75-77 for picture books about face-to-face teasing and bullying; and pages 79-80 for children’s books about online safety and cyberbullying protection.