It is that time of year. Across the nation, teachers are saying goodbye to their students for a few months, while parents are tasked with helping their children avoid the pitfalls of the well-documented summer slide. What many parents may have overlooked is the fantastic opportunity right at their fingertips—internet research.
The Internet: Not Just for 15-Page Research Papers
The word research sounds intimidating because many parents remember their own tortured experiences with research papers when they were in school. But in the digital age, most of us research every day without even realizing it. Simply put, research is the act of seeking the answers to our questions. With the internet ready to help us, we conduct research on a daily basis.
We should apply the following evaluation of our search results:
- Does this website answer my specific question?
- How do a variety of websites answer the same question? (We are comparing and contrasting without the Venn diagram!)
- Are all web resources equal and accurate, and if not, how can I tell?
This analysis, which we hope most adults perform without realizing it, is why Internet research is such a rich source for learning for our children.
It is true that in the classroom we want to teach students more formal methods of research and reporting. We want them to gather data from experimentation and/or multiple sources, synthesize the information into a product for sharing with others, and cite their sources. But all research need not result in a 15-page, single-spaced paper. The ability for children to ask and answer their own questions is one of the most fundamental learning objectives for life. This informal research, with children seeking to answer their own questions, is engaging, motivating and empowering. A cyclic pattern of research is established—curiosity leading to research and back again to curiosity and follow-up questions.
How to Engage Children in Research at Home
Parents may wonder how they can introduce and facilitate informal Internet research with their child. Here are a few suggestions:
- Begin by encouraging your child to find answers to everyday questions. Have children research which flowers to grow in the shady spot in the yard, which mosquito repellent is safest, and which day of the week would provide the best weather for a trip to the amusement park. These are all questions for which parents need answers, and children can help by becoming young research assistants—on-the-job training!
- Whenever possible, research should result from something the child is already interested in. The motivation already exists, providing a natural lead-in to the suggestion that he or she does an Internet search for more information. If your child isn’t one to be openly curious about the world, ask leading questions out loud to get him or her thinking. “I wonder why that curve ball curves?” “I wonder how that cotton candy maker works?”
- Show your child how to use Google Maps to get directions and plan out family summer trips. Creating a plan for a multiday trip, including where to stop each night based on mileage and historic sites along the way, is a fantastic project. If they find this motivating, have them plan and take virtual trips to different parts of the world and beyond. With the amazing resources available, the world is only a few keystrokes away. They can take a virtual tour of Paris or catch a ride on the Mars Rover with real and breathtaking images.
- Summer is the perfect time for children to learn new physical skills, and internet research is a wonderful tool to get them started. Researching “how to” topics like cooking, building a robot, sewing, basic coding, and building a fort are all great projects that can begin with internet research.
Some Basics to Remember as Kids Search the Internet
There are several things to remember when helping your child search the internet.
For young children, begin by bookmarking kid-friendly internet search sites, or better yet, bookmark several. Make sure they know how to access these search sites rather than sending them to Google. This will help narrow the answers they find to age-appropriate reading levels and content. Consider these options:
Have a conversation about judging the relative value and quality of a website. Is it for profit or not? Are there advertisements? Who is responsible for creating the website? Is the author credible and objective?
Finally, remember that children may need help figuring out the best words to use to get the answers they seek. Identifying search terms is a great lesson all by itself. Before sending them off to find the answers to their questions, ask them what words they will use to find what they are looking for.
Summer is a time for adventure. Giving your child opportunities for using the internet to explore interests and answer questions can help prevent summer slide and prepare them for their return to school. But as a bonus, it will help them become self-directed learners.