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Kids Pushing Online Creativity and Innovation to New Levels

July 07, 2010 04:40 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
As the scope and quality of child-generated content continues to grow online, which sites are setting the pace, and how can parents help their kids get involved?

Kids’ Web Exploration Can be Valuable Learning Experience

In an interview with CNN, Cliff Boro of kid-friendly browser KidZui discussed how kids are using the Web, what they demand from content and how to keep them engaged while they learn.

“The goal is to be both educational and entertaining,” he said to CNN. There are 8,600 Web channels for children on KidZui, covering everything from ecology to pop music. Kids often begin searching on “something they're interested in like baseball and end up learning or watching videos about sporting events in Rome,” Boro explained.

The most surprising aspect for Boro has been discovering that kids use the Web much differently and, in some regards, more creatively than adults. ”[M]aybe because they have more time,” Boro says, “kids are bigger explorers in terms of discovering content on the Internet.” As for what kids are looking for from online content, Boro tells CNN they “love voting on content, they love giving their opinion. They love sharing things.”

To help children become active, creative Web participants, Warren Buckleitner of The New York Times suggests starting “with something your child is passionate about,” such as animals on the Web site of your local zoo. There are other simple ways to help children engage with and learn from online content, such as letting them write reviews. “Teachers call this authentic publishing, and YouTube is a gold mine of opportunity for sharpening spelling and editing,” Buckleitner writes.

The wide range of content available to children with varying interests can be a double-edged sword, Buckleitner explains: The Web “can be enlightening, but it’s wise to stay a few steps ahead of your child’s curiosity and make discoveries together,” in order to avoid unsafe situations online.

Background: Social networks and civic involvement for kids

Other methods of involving kids in Web content creation are available and include low-level political activism and safe social networking.

PBS’ Speak Out Web site, which launched during the 2008 presidential election, “is a youth collaborative project to create a digital open letter to our presidential administration.” The site encourages 6 to 12-year-olds to share their ideas on how President Obama should deal with important issues, such as health care and education. Ideas are voted on, and those receiving the highest number of votes are then “featured on in the form of a message to our President.”

Think social networking is only for adults? Not anymore. The My LEGO Network is a social networking portal for children that allows them to “create and control” their own Web pages. “You can collect, build, and trade with virtual items. You mail with your friends, and show off your creativity to the whole wide world!” the site explains. Users can also compose music and make stickers or virtual LEGO structures.

Related Topic: Photography and documentaries by kids

BYkids encourages kids to create socially conscious films. Five kids per year are paired with “master filmmakers” that act as mentors in the making of “short documentaries that educate Americans about globally relevant issues.” Kids aged 8-21 are selected from around the world to participate in the month-long projects. Film subjects are decided on by “UNICEF and a group of nationally-recognized journalists, filmmakers, teens and non-profit leaders,” according to the nonprofit organization’s Web site. Once completed, the films are distributed at film festivals, for TV broadcast and “DVD distribution, school programs and web downloads,” targeting at least two million viewers.

The nonprofit organization Kids with Cameras “teaches the art of photography to marginalized children in communities around the world.” There are many benefits of photography, including empowering children by building their confidence and self-esteem, and giving them a sense of hope for the future by tapping into their imaginations, the organization’s Web site suggests. Kids with Cameras shares children’s photos in “exhibitions, books, websites and film,” and works to improve children’s communities by partnering with “local organizations” and donating print sales.

Opinion & Analysis: How generating content makes kids “globally competitive”

Blogger Joe Summerhays wrote in 2007 about the benefits of helping kids create their own online channels. “Being able to visually define their experiences and share their views with a multitude of online denizens will give your child the opportunity to hone their creative skills, while growing their cognitive ability and enhancing their social skills,” he wrote. Summerhays contrasts Web activity with playing computer games that are “mindless and possibly violent,” and have “no relevance to the real world around them.”

In a separate post, Summerhays, whose children are involved in the online animation series The Animation Chefs, asserted that children are “participating in media rather than merely watching,” and with that, gaining a tremendous amount of “experience and knowledge” that can “make them more globally competitive later.”

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