This is an actual quote that my seven-year-old daughter said to me about my five-year-old son after discovering the ability to play Minecraft in the same world in the iOS pocket education. I think this quote exemplifies the idea of a digital playground and represents the central theme around this series of blog posts.
Now, is everything all bubbles and flowers in the Cogswell household? Of course not! Less then five minutes after demonstrating such wonderful digital citizenship, my son and daughter were arguing about whose Minecraft world they were going to play in together and next yelling about not accidentally smashing the world in with bricks. There was whining...crying...and unrest as they navigated whose will would overcome.
So here's my point...children learn many social skills when they go to places such as the playground. They learn how to make news friends, play collaboratively, and resolve conflicts. And, when kids can't resolve their conflicts, we as parents are there to step in to help facilitate. On the same note, how often do we give kids a chance to interact or play with each other online? I say this because much of the time when kids are on devices, they are simply interacting with the device itself. Subsequently, when they do socialize online and a conflict arises, no one is available to help resolve their issues. And of course, when you add a level of anonymity to the online interactions, that's when trolls and cyber bullies pop up. So boomeranging back around, how are we teaching kids online social skills and digital citizenship, and when do they have a chance to play on the digital playground?
Before I move on, I must provide a disclaimer. I am an advocate of balance and moderation. In the 1:1 classroom, students get time on devices, but they also need time with peers, paper, and pavement. Just like at home, we can't just always hand children a device when they get grumpy to pacify them. We need to let them be grumpy, kick them outside to physically release that energy, or have them take some time to chill. Of course sometimes as parents, we need a break and the tablet is right there. Give it to the kid, but not all the time, not even most of the time, we need to choose our battles.
Back to the questions above. How do we teach kids digital citizenship on the digital playground? The same way we teach them everything else: we give them opportunities to explore in a safe environment while under supervision. We allow them to not only interact with the device, but other people through the device.
One great place to go is artsnacks.org by Kevin Honeycutt. Children can learn how to draw and interact with others online. They can even post their artwork!!! Another resource provided by Kommein.com is 8 Safe Social Networks for Kids. This resource gives a few options on various social media sites. Also, a third is diy.org, which is a online community for creative kids giving kids chances to participate in a DIY camp online. If you are looking for even more, just use Google. There are a bunch out there.
In the end, it really doesn't matter what app or program it is. I would just encourage you to give your children the chance to engage online with other kids under your supervision. Build a digital citizen that can look both ways when crossing the Internet. Even better -- you can get in the digital sandbox with your child.