Whether your child is currently at school or learning remotely, now more than ever, they need to learn their digital safety ABCs. These fun, informative books are a great start.
They’ll help you connect with kids at their own level, while getting real about the tough issues they need to understand right now, from cyberbullying to Zoom-based learning.
The screen-time tsunami
The global pandemic has engulfed our children in a veritable tidal wave of screen-time. At the height of lockdown restrictions, one large-scale study found a terrifying 500% spike in the time kids were spending with devices.
In the intervening months, as restrictions across the nation wax and wane, experts are seeing at least a 50% across-the-board increase in time spent online.
Even more concerning, they are predicting that these high levels will persist even after the pandemic subsides. The hope that our children will revert to pre-pandemic levels of usage, the evidence tells us, is wishful thinking.
How do we equip and support our children not simply to survive in an increasingly online world, but to thrive?
All of which begs the question: How do we equip and support our children not simply to survive in an increasingly online world, but to thrive? Educators and parents alike are scrambling to address the critical need for cyber safety education and dialogue.
But talking to kids about digital health and well-being is one thing. Getting them to listen to those messages can be quite another.
A crop of new books, aimed at primary-school-aged kids, is addressing exactly that challenge with stories and characters that engage, delight and inform.
For parents looking for a conversation-starter that won’t make the kids’ eyes glaze over, How We Got Cyber Smart, by Melbourne-based author Lisa Rothfield-Kirschner, is a welcome resource.
What’s more, during the pandemic, it’s available as a free online book here.
The story follows the adventures of twins Olivia and Jack, who love technology - of course! - but also bump up against some very realistic bullying issues. The pair, with the help of their parents, learn to identify and navigate a range of online challenges.
But the kid-friendly tone of the book - along with the fun illustrations by Katarina Matkovic - never wavers. Nor do the positive messages about getting the best out of technology, while protecting against the worst.
“Technology is so awesome, it connects us instantly to anywhere on Earth, but it’s very important to be careful when you’re online.”
- How We Got Cyber Safe
How We Got Cyber Smart has been enthusiastically endorsed by Family Zone’s acclaimed cyber experts, including Dr. Kristy Goodwin, who has praised it as “a great book for parents, educators and health professionals wanting to talk to kids about online safety.”
Family Zone’s own Kim Maslin, a WA-based digital technologies educator and cyber expert, has recently added a fourth volume to her acclaimed series of cyber safety books for kids.
The Zooming Owl, a special edition short story released in response to the COVID-19 crisis, introduces primary school students to topics around distance education and remote learning.
Joining Kim’s previous books The Little Possum Who Looked Up, The Tweeting Galah and The Surfing Penguin, The Zooming Owl features relatable Australian animal characters, charmingly illustrated by John Field, as they navigate a sudden transition to online learning.
With a termite attack forcing the closure of the Flying Academy for Young Galahs, Wing Commander Grey is transitioning his class to online learning …. as long as technology issues don’t get in the way!
Intended primarily for classroom use - but today’s homes often are today’s classrooms - all three books in the series offer augmented reality experiences, which kids love. These offer a simple, safe and engaging technological experience that is user-friendly for even the least tech-savvy teacher or parent.
There are also free, downloadable supporting activities that invite kids to extend and demonstrate what they’ve learned.
Buy The Zooming Owl, or the entire series, here.
A third children’s book, by award-winning Australian author and illustrator Nick Bland, asks the question, “Are mobile phones really ‘fabulous friend machines’?”
Just a few short years ago, smartphone ownership was a right of passage for high-schoolers. Today, more and more primary-aged kids have pleaded and pestered their way onto the bandwagon. The result? A truly urgent need to educate kids about what phones can - and can’t - do for them, as they navigate the increasingly challenging waters of tween social life.
How does Nick Bland do it? If you can believe it, with chickens. (The book’s cover, above, features a chook pecking at an iPad. As you do.)
The Fabulous Friend Machine is available from major bookstores, and helpful discussion notes by Radhiah Chowdhury can be found here.
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