Search engines aren't just for curious adults. A growing number of kid-safe search engines use Internet filtering technology to prevent Web sites with pornographic or violent material from appearing on a list of results. Some are maintained by a staff, often composed of librarians, who continually monitor the sites that pop up in searches to verify that their content is fitting for students. Users may also report inappropriate URLs. Edutopia compared the features of several kid-friendly search engines, conducting a number of searches on school-related topics as well as such hot buttons as drugs, sex, and violence.
Credit: Hugh D'Andrade
Ask for Kids
Overview: This kiddie version of Ask Jeeves combines age-appropriate content and filtering and "natural language" technology, allowing kids to ask questions to narrow a search.
Design and features: This colorful, animated site includes an almanac that leads to Fact Monster, a starting point for research. A link to online clip art provides a library of free images to deter students from stealing copyrighted work.
Drawbacks: Some searches collect few results. For instance, asking, "What is a Siberian tiger?" splits the search into unrelated ones for each term -- and leads to just one fitting option: NationalGeographic.com's site for kids.
Test search: Seeking information on "drugs" leads to a scroll-down menu of informative but content-thin sites about the effects of drugs on the nervous system from Neuroscience for Kids. Hunting for "sex" led to two places: a resource site at Teenadviceonline and a brief, dry biological description of sex.
Overview: This site, created by librarians in the Ramapo Catskill Library System, in Middletown, New York, is maintained by the School of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University, in San Jose, California.
Design and features: Conduct searches by clicking on a letter or choosing from fifteen main topic menus, plus submenus. Helpful links lead to lessons on searching the Internet, a resource page listing more kid-friendly engines, digital libraries such as ThinkQuest.org, and pages that compile images and sound clips.
Drawbacks: The site is comprehensive but less interactive than, say, Yahoo Kids, and more straightforward, with less edutainment.
Test search: A search for "drugs" compiled sites geared toward teens and adults, such as that of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. A "sex" search pulled up a tutorial on genetics and a PBS video on a growing embryo.
Overview: The site, partnering with Google, lists various kid-safe sites and blocks pornography and explicit sexual content.
Design and features: Sites are listed by topic and include an array of destinations such as online shopping networks, television stations, and even soap opera sites.
Drawbacks: The basic, no-frills design isn't catchy enough for impatient kids.
Test search: Results for "drugs" included informative sites about both street and prescription drugs, including that of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and sites administered by the federal government, such as StopDrugs.org, and organizations. A query on "sex" led to related articles at Salon.com, HBO.com's Sex and the City page, databases of registered sex offenders, and an MTV site with articles on safe sex and more mature content for teens.
Overview: This site calls itself a "family-oriented site that restricts pornographic results."
Design and features: A search for "Siberian tiger" gathers more than a dozen sites, many from zoos. Users can download a desktop search toolbar that scans sixteen search engines and connects to Radio RedZee.
Drawbacks: This site doesn't fully protect against risky Web hunts. A search for "drugs" yielded sites such as StopDrugs.org juxtaposed with ads and links to online prescription companies that allow minors to purchase products.
Test search: A search for "violence" gathered sites on entertainment-software ratings and about youth-violence prevention such as those at the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center's Web site and Talking With Kids About Tough Issues. A search for "sex" yielded no results.
Overview: The children's version of Yahoo includes sites "handpicked" and checked by educators -- rather than filtered with technology -- and targets ages 7-12. Yahoo Kids announces that it rejects sites that are "sleazy," "slimy," "pornographic," or "hateful."
Design and features: The site, like Yahoo, is colorful, interactive, and organized and fuses educational directories of science and computers with entertainment links to music videos, jokes, polls, and horoscopes, making it a one-stop destination integrating academics with fun. Parent and teacher guides offer resources for Internet safety and literacy.
Drawbacks: Students may drift from school-related research to entertainment content.
Test search: A "drugs" search compiled sites from DARE, links to government sites such as NIDA for Teens, and forums with more child-accessible information at the sites of PBS Kids and Nickelodeon. "Sex" collected less than a dozen results, including a BrainPOP.com cartoon about fertilization and birth, while the rest led to sometimes dense discussions on meiosis. Typing in "violence" gathered results on bullying and violence prevention.