Growing up as a kid, I was always outside exploring new things. It was this adventurous spirit that led me to become an archaeologist, and to my fascination with the past.
The world has changed significantly since my childhood, with my children now able to access a wealth of information and knowledge at their fingertips, whether through a smartphone, tablet or computer.
I saw a recent survey for the NHS that found that one in four children spend as much as 12 hours a day in front of the television or on the computer.
For budding historians, the internet has made vast reams of information easily accessible; with great free resources such as the BBC History site (www.bbc.co.uk/history, the British Museum (www.britishmuseum.org) and National Geographic (www.nationalgeographic.com) available to help interest kids in different periods in our rich and varied past. This led me to think more about how we can encourage children to become “adventurers” at home, and in particular to use the internet to spark young imaginations and foster a love of learning both on and offline. My own children love using the internet for a range of activities – from playing games to looking up facts to help with their homework.
My generation of parents is, in effect, the first generation of what I like to term “digital parents” and it’s important that we are empowered to use the internet as a learning tool for children, and that we can guide our kids to explore the best parts of the web.
I am involved in an exciting new digital guide that looks at how we as parents can make best use of the internet. As the author of the “Explore” chapter in Club Penguin’s Guide to the Wonderful World of the Web, I offer tips, advice and personal experience of using online tools to help children explore the world around them in a playful and fun way.
In my role as a presenter for the BBC’s series Coast and A History of Scotland, the web has been and remains an invaluable tool. However, the sheer quantity of information and facts at our fingertips does mean that children can easily get lost as they explore online. The internet can quickly lead you off your path as you follow links to other subjects that catch your interest, so while we as parents should always allow our children some independence in their explorations, it is also important to support and guide them – as we would in the real world.
I want to use my son as an example of how inspiring the internet can be. At six years old he is very visually focused like most children of his age, and when he has a homework assignment he starts by looking for images about the subject online.
Last term he had a project about sea creatures and was obsessed with looking at pictures of giant snails and crabs! Images allow him to put his own interpretation on things and they fuel his desire to find out more, to continue exploring and discovering. It is easy to get bogged down in facts on the internet, but for children it is about lighting sparks in their imagination.
I believe that kids have a natural love of exploring things, which we can encourage through games, maps and factual sites on the web.
For example, here is a tip if you have a quiet weekend coming up over the autumn. Go online with your children and find if there are any good walks in your area. Then, give them the responsibility to research Google for ten or 20 interesting things to find or see on the walk, almost like a tick list.
It’s a great exercise in using their imaginations online, and good fun when you’re looking out for things on the walk too.
As an archaeologist and author, I am obsessed with historical facts being correct. The internet can throw up lots of conflicting and inaccurate accounts that can be confusing for children, so it is helpful to guide them to respected websites that you trust.
n Club Penguin’s Guide to the Wonderful World of the Web, and Neil’s chapter on how to “explore” the internet, is available to download from today. Check it out at www.disney.co.uk/ clubpenguin.
Neil’s top tips
1 The internet can quickly lead you off your path, so it’s important for parents to guide their children and ensure they stay focused
2 It’s important for the internet to ignite sparks of imagination rather than getting your children to memorise information
3 If you let your child take the reins with your supervision, they are sure to find unusual and unexpected perspectives to talk about at school
4 You can use the internet to learn about your home, and create fun and engaging games such as a treasure hunt