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January 18, 2008

Are Kids Search Engine Savvy?

I just saw a link on Techmeme from the Ars Technica blog titled "The Google generation not so hot at Googling, after all" discussing a UK report on the information skills for kids born since 1993. That post highlighted the following findings from the report:

  • "Prefer interactive systems to passive ones"
  • "Are competent with technology, but not expert searchers"
  • "They like to cut-and-paste" (plagiarism is a serious issue)
  • "They prefer visual information over text"
  • "They multitask all the time"
  • "Teachers, relatives, and textbooks are consistently valued above the Internet"

While I do agree with some of the points above, what is all this fuss about kids not being expert searches? So I decided to put my 9 year old to the test...

I asked him to pretend he was doing a report on a specific type of lizard, where would he search online?

He went to Google then typed "lizard". Next he looked at the links - the first was Wikipedia and he went past it to the link called "Kids Konnect - Lizards".  He asked me what type of lizard and I said a "horned lizard". Then he choose the section on "horned lizards" which had a page full of information. From the url, it seemed to have come from the University of Texas. But that made me wonder, forget about being a good searcher - how do we know if the websites have correct information? From my unscientific test of one, it seems my 9 year was fine at using a search engine - but the information at the other end that seems to be the issue (instead of the information skills of children)...

So I decided to perform the same test on the Scholastic Children's Encyclopedia to see if just using a text book can be quicker then some online searches... We tried to search for "Lizard" under "L", but it was not there. So we went to the index and found "Lizard" under "R" for "reptile". In the reptile section, there was great information on lizards - but nothing on "horned" lizards. I know that this encyclopedia is focused for children of a specific age - and is only one book. Maybe a set of encyclopedias would of had that information.... But - it was still faster to use a search engine and my son did just fine..

There are some websites that offer a safer or more direct experience for children to use a search engine:

  • Glubble states they offer "trusted surfing for children under 12 years of age enables families to be sure they only see the best of the web they choose to allow".
  • Kid Konnect states that they are a "safe internet gateway for kids".
  • I found a website that has links to "Kids Tools" including an online version of the Merriam Webster Dictionary!
  • Google has a directory for kids and teens that has relevent links to resources for kids.
  • I found another website called "Ivy Search Engine Resources" that has links to kid related search engine sites.
  • Yahoo Kids is a great gateway for kids to not only perform searches but find links to jokes, movies, music and make ecards.

And it was in the Yahoo Kids site that we had the best search engine result. When we typed "horned lizard" in the search bar of the Yahoo Kids site, it had many relevant link results. One was a dictionary, that when clicked through provided us with one paragraph with all the info we needed on the horned lizard... All of this is something my son did while on the site.

So, in the end it seems kids can be expert searchers if they start at the right website. Maybe alittle help from mom and dad to get them there is not a bad idea...

UPDATE: Kid Safe Search Sites is another online sites for kids.

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