Early childhood environments originated in the idea that children need a safe space in which they could explore the world. Spaces created for young children were meant to mirror the outside world so that they could learn safely through play. Maria Montessori was the first to introduce the idea of child-sized furniture and real life tasks to support child development. As progressive educators, it is our job to continually evaluate the world in which we live, and discover ways to create safe and meaningful learning experiences for children.
Today, children are growing up in two versions of the world. There is still the real, hands-on, daily life that they experience in the classroom through imaginative play. We continue to model and prioritize social interaction, manners, and norms for living and learning within a community. However, there is now a digital world that we must consider. No matter how much we try to protect our children, they are bombarded with digital media when they go out into the world. From billboards along the highway, to shopping centers, doctors offices, banks, even parks offering guided tours through use of smart phones. Kids are seeing and experiencing a very different world than we have ever known. Learning to navigate this territory is essential. Creating a safe space to model what it means to be a thoughtful digital citizen must be one of our priorities as educators.
In education, much of the conversation about digital citizenship often focuses on the pre-teen and teen population. Older children experience lessons about cyber-bullying and the dangers of navigating social media. While these lessons are critical, they are coming at a time when kids are seeking freedom. Like any teen wanting to break away and explore the world with more independence, they are left to navigate this virtual world very much on their own. We can hope that they heard our words, that watching over their shoulder and quietly following their accounts will be enough. Yet, they seem to be learning to navigate this world faster than many adults. It can be a daunting task to keep up!
My suggestion is this: Instead of waiting until kids are out on their own with social media, let's take time to develop their digital citizenship while they are young. Just as we would model table manners and take our kids out to dinner so that they can one day do this on their own, we can give them a chance to sit alongside us and develop social norms of living and sharing within a digital community. We can create a literacy block that acknowledges digital literacy as a meaningful way of practicing reading and writing. We can focus on opportunity, dialogue, and modeling of expectations.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a big fan of Seesaw. I could go on about that here, but that is for another post! The reason I am bringing up Seesaw is that it allows children the opportunity to negotiate meaningful documentation of their work to add to portfolios. Additionally, it allows for safe sharing of posts via social media from the teacher view. It is set up so that when a portfolio item is shared, all personal information is removed from the post (not including anything added within the post itself). In the past, I have been the one to share out posts that I thought would support other teachers in trying new things in the classroom. This year, I am taking a bit of a new approach.
Instead of having me decide if something is worthy of sharing on social media or adding to a class blog, we will decide as a class (or with individual or small groups of kids). After discussion on not sharing names or personal information, comes the deeper part of our work. This is an opportunity to model and practice thoughtful reflection alongside children. This is where we discover together that not everything needs to be shared on a global level. This is where we consider how others will feel when they see our post. Social media is not about technology, it is about people. This is where we develop a sense of respect and responsibility to use social media to impact our world positively. Just as we plant the seeds of kindness, respect, and responsibility for personal interaction, we can do the same for digital interaction. This is our opportunity to safely teach young children about the rules of the digital playground.
To guide the conversation, I have created this Google Sheet to help children reflect on their idea, and determine if it is ready to share with the world. The sheet is simple, but the conversation around it is complex and important. This is where we can have dialogue about what we feel and why we feel it. It is where we consider the impact of our words, and ideas on others, and on the world. If we can create this habit for young children, they have something to fall back on when they are navigating social media and digital communication on their own one day.
This is how the sheet works:
Two simple questions help children develop self-reflection and empathy as they consider the perspective of the other.
Visual feedback helps them to carefully assess their idea from two perspectives.
Once the feelings have all been assessed, children have clear direction to guide reflection.
Click here to make a copy of the Google Sheet
This activity is meant to support the interaction between adults and children as they develop their understanding of digital citizenship. Just as we sit by their sides reading picture books so that they can one day read a novel on their own, we can sit by their sides modeling thoughtful digital interaction so that they may one day share ideas that positively impact our global community. This is how educators, caregivers, and children work together to change the world.
Heart & Soul,