A few years ago, I wrote a post called “Teaching Digital Citizenship in the Elementary Classroom.” Now I want to share a sample lesson for teaching internet safety to students as young as kindergarten. Yes, you read correctly—kindergarten.
With children spending time online at younger and younger ages, it’s vital that we explicitly teach young children how to protect themselves online. Most young children get the “stranger danger” talk at school, so they know about how to handle strangers in their neighborhood and in face-to-face situations.
There are three considerations when addressing internet safety with these students. First, the transfer of knowledge about how to handle strangers in real life to those in virtual environments is not automatic. It needs to be taught. Second, while most stranger danger programs teach that strangers are scary and mean and want to hurt or abduct children, this contradicts the way collaboration occurs between strangers online. Not all strangers are dangerous. Lastly, in real life students can walk or run away from a potential threat. In an online environment, the danger is inside a student’s home and hard to escape if they don’t have the skills necessary for handling tough situations.
Protecting Private Information OnlineThis is a lesson I’ve done with my kindergarten and first-grade students to introduce the idea that strangers exist on the internet and to discuss how we should interact with them. You’ll need a computer and internet access, and it’s helpful to have a projector or interactive whiteboard so these questions can be projected on the screen during the discussion. Ask students these questions:
- “What is a stranger?” After soliciting various answers, ensure that students understand that a stranger is someone we don’t know. Remind students that some strangers may want to hurt them, but not all strangers are bad people. You can mention examples like a stranger who opens a door for you or picks up something you dropped and returns it to you.
- “What kinds of things should we not tell a stranger?” Solicit a variety of answers, ensuring that things like “address,” “phone number,” “full name” are mentioned.
- “What kinds of things are OK to tell a stranger?” This question tends to be harder for students to answer. You may get answers like “Hi” or “How are you?” If students are stumped, have them vote with their thumbs about various things like “your favorite color” or “your favorite ice cream flavor.” Explain that certain kinds of information won’t put them in harm’s way.
- “Are there strangers online?” Some students may have played games online before and may offer answers related to those experiences. I’ve had students as young as kindergarten say that they think there are strangers online because you don’t always know who you are talking to. After a brief discussion of different ways we can connect with strangers online (which can include game systems), show them a video about how to handle strangers online.
There are a few ways to check and make sure your students have understood the lesson:
- Print out one of the quizzes (easy or hard, depending on your students) to assess what they’ve learned.
- Have your students act out scenarios that show their understanding of the main concepts from the video or to practice handling strangers online.
- Have them create an internet safety poster using a drawing program like TuxPaint.