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Safe Surfing

It is entirely possible to home educate without using internet sources. For years homeschoolers have educated their children by relying on books for lesson materials and education resources, however now, when access to everything is at our fingertips, ignoring the internet is a waste of resources. Access to knowledge is made easy online.

As a home educator, using the internet to build a homeschool resource bank, or for lesson planning, saves time and makes it easier to integrate a wide variety of different-medium resources into homeschool lessons; for home-educated students, the internet allows them to (easily) access knowledge independently of a teacher, to delve deeper into topics that interest them; to become self-led learners.

And yet, giving children unsupervised access to the internet isn’t a good idea.

An important part of home education is teaching pupils how to stay safe online. Digital literacy is vital for students, and online safety is the starting point. So how do you teach homeschoolers about safe internet usage and give them the freedom to explore online independently?

The Digital Citizenship course by Commonsense Media is a fantastic place to start. The course guides students through what it means to be safe online and is curated as ready-to-use curricula making it perfect for inclusion in a home education course of study.

The Digital Citizenship course is intended to be used K1-K12, gradually adding to the building blocks, to introduce and expand upon online safety concepts in an age-appropriate way.

There are six areas of internet usage covered in the course:

  • balancing online and offline lives,
  • privacy and security,
  • digital footprints,
  • online relationships,
  • language and behaviour,
  • and news, media and literacy.

The course content includes facts to learn and apply (privacy & security) and ethical and critical thinking lesson plans.

Course questions such as ‘What should the consequences for online hate speech be?’, are additionally useful to home educators who can take the question and lesson that goes with it, and extend those resources into (eg.) writing assignments for an additional lesson. This type of extension is useful as a grab-and-go lesson.

The Commonsense Media course is graded according to a school-based curriculum but is designed so that you can drop in and drop out at whatever pace fits your family’s rules around internet access and usage. It’s a great course for home educators who want to ensure their students are safe online without the need for parental guidance blocks on devices.

Internet Rules

Instead of parental controls (which limit access within websites that can make it frustrating for home learners) try setting ground rules for internet usage:

  • Which websites/apps can be accessed freely?
  • Which websites/apps need explicit permission to access?
  • What are the house rules around internet searches/communicating online?

It’s not always easy to limit screen time if using online curriculum or digital home-ed resources but it’s important to keep on top of how much time home learners are spending online. You could try setting time limits (either by asking home learners to monitor themselves or by setting computer/device controls to limit the time spent), or enforce a rule that one online activity must be balanced with an offline one.

Make sure home learners are confident about what information they should share online and where they’re allowed to share. Are they allowed to use their real names when signing up to anything online? Is it permissible for them to share their location/turn on chat functions/share documents? If they’ve completed the Commonsense Media Digital Citizenship course they’ll have covered these questions in a theoretical sense but taking time to review and make sure they know your own house rules regarding online interactions will help them connect the theory to the practice.

  • Set computer and device homepage websites to sites homeschoolers can freely explore

These don’t necessarily have to be the same sites you use for ‘school’ – our homeschoolers currently love Sharkle, The Chrome Music Lab and this genius exploration into the Deep Sea.

(Five minutes before school ‘scrolling’ sites like this (or completing that day’s Wordle / an online crossword / sudoku) make them more inclined to jump into ‘school’ as the short activity breaks the blur between ‘home’ and ‘school’.)

  • Teach them how to search online by googling alongside them!

Write a list of random questions that are asked over the course of a week and allocate a couple of hours searching for the answers online. Not only does this practically teach how to make safe internet searches; it also inevitably generates content, topics, and resources that can be used for future lessons. Bookmark anything interesting and come back to it later.