The Internet Farm
The purpose of the Internet Farm project is to initiate children of kindergarten and primary-school age into important rules of Internet usage, while supporting the necessary, very active role of (grand)parents and educators in empowering minors to use interactive media ethically, constructively and safely.
Through five engaging stories taking place on an animal farm, children become aware of important issues online, such as protecting personal data, avoiding strangers online, stopping online hate speech and cyberbullying. Even if children in this age group are not yet allowed to use many popular social networking services or sites (SNSs), the project targets SNSs as a big part of children’s online activities; one out of three Greek minors under the age of 13 has an SNS profile (mostly on Facebook), which is in many cases unprotected and reveals personal data on a massive public scale.(1) Οn the other hand, one out of two Greek parents allows their children to have an SNS profile and use it at any time, without any restrictions, and lacks serious knowledge about their children’s exposure to harmful online content, cyberbullying or defamation.Błąd: Nie znaleziono źródła odwołania.
- to empower children from a very young age in using the Internet, and in general interactive technologies, responsibly, ethically and safely
- to empower educators and (grand)parents in their – in many cases very difficult – active role concerning the online lives of the children, in order to promote critical thinking and awareness concerning interactive media within their classroom and the family
- to support educators and (grand)parents in an easy and entertaining way – while triggering good discussions among the school community or the family members – in evaluating each member’s online behavior, and in setting and explaining rules of responsible usage
- Children of kindergarten and primary-school age
- Educators of such children
- Parents and grandparents of such children
Media: illustrated 128-page fairytale book, interactive theatre play, songs
Methods: The methodology is based on three pillars: problem identification, solution analysis, and knowledge evaluation, using a most effective way that children have been learning throughout the centuries: fairytales, and allowing minors to contribute with enthusiasm to the project’s scope and success.
Duration: The duration of the project is flexible, and can be defined by each class and educator, while also depending on the children’s age and background knowledge, reaching up to 20 hours of teaching. Within the family, the messages provided by the book and the theatrical play can become the basis for creating a long-lasting ‘family contract on Internet use’.
Resources needed: In school, the project can be implemented by one educator per class. At home, it can be implemented by the parents and grandparents, being the leaders and the guiding force of the project.
The Internet Farm project uses a 124-page illustrated fairytale book and a one-hour theatrical play, with songs promoting media literacy and online safety.
Through five engaging stories taking place on an animal farm, children become aware of the following crucial issues: receiving emails from strangers, revealing personal data on online quizzes, meeting up with people they’ve met online, publishing personal pictures online, racism on the Internet, reliability of online information, identifying ways in which strangers approach children online, cyberbullying, publishing other people’s pictures, manipulating pictures, and ethical Internet use. The two most important issues – protection of privacy and treating online ‘friends’ always as strangers – reoccur and are discussed more than once in the stories above.
The main characters in the tales are two children, Nicky and Nicholas, who, along with their dog Hercules, take care of the farm. They also have a trusted ally, Powell the owl, a wise counselor and guide. The children assume the role of real-life parents. Hercules stands for a trusted family friend who knows what’s proper and what’s not when it comes to surfing online, thus protecting, when necessary, the underage users. The wise owl assumes the role of the educator who has his/her own way of guiding the kids towards the right sort of information and knowledge, and helps them develop critical thinking.
Educators, parents and grandparents are invited to read these stories along with their children, attend the theatrical performances with the children, and afterwards discuss any issues that may have come up. In this way they can get their kids thinking about, and sharpen their capacity to recognize, similar issues that arise in their own online adventures, now and in the future. To further empower and support carers and pedagogues to evaluate their children’s critical thinking and maturity concerning media use, there is a short “Let’s see what we’ve learned from our story” section at the end of each book chapter.
The theatrical performance is ‘mobile’, in that it can be set up and performed in any theatre, school, or suitable.
knowledge, compared to standard teaching methods. The method is based on three pillars: problem identification, solution analysis, and knowledge evaluation, and uses a most effective way whereby children have learnt throughout the centuries: fairytales. This allows the minors to contribute with enthusiasm to the project’s scope and success.
In the stories, Nicky and Nicolas are the heroes. The farm animals surf online without critical thinking, and the two children guide their beloved animals in their online adventures. Thus, the participating kids do not feel they are ‘told what to do’ by adults, sometimes in a rather prohibiting manner. They want to become like the fairytale heroes, strong and knowledgeable. Through the power of art, the children easily comprehend that the Internet is part of our daily lives and a great tool, but that as a tool it has to be used with critical thinking. Carers see how art conveys in a pleasant way crucial messages that they sometimes struggle to promote to their children, triggering interactive discussions among the family and within the class.
Exemplary description of one day/part of project
The project is polymorphic and multilevel, and combines qualitative and quantitative methods. It can run as a whole within the family, or be used in the classroom. In this respect, there are several paths for project exploitation and evaluation:
At family level – evaluating the children’s understanding. At the end of each book story, there is a short “Let’s see what we’ve learned from our story” quiz, allowing (grand)parents to trigger discussion with their kids and evaluate their assimilation of the promoted messages.
After the theatrical performances: The children are called on stage to share what they learned from the play, revealing dazzling facts about how much they actually know about online media, and how fast they are able to assimilate knowledge. In parallel, parents are interviewed about the impact of the performance on them and their children.
At school level: It’s a four-step process to implement the project, and to evaluate the project’s impact on the children’s online behavior. The duration can be decided by the educators involved, and vary according to the children’s age and background knowledge:
a) The educators conduct in the classroom a short questionnaire on online media use, in view of the Internet Farm project implementation.
b) After the theatrical play and/or dramatized narrations of the book stories within the classroom, the educators use the quiz on each story for their first ad hoc evaluation.
c) Educators implement internal projects: story, theatre play, song, poster; thus, the Internet Farm is exploited for the children and by the child creators, allowing the educators to evaluate in a second qualitative step the degree of knowledge assimilation and dissemination (such as peer-to-peer).
d) The educators conduct a second short questionnaire, which – in relation to the first findings – allows them to measure their pupils’ behavioral change (e.g. deletion of online ‘friends’, use of privacy settings).
What needs special attention?
To fully exploit the messages provided on online safety, it is important to pay special attention to the ages of the children: a child aged six years needs online privacy to be explained in a different way from one aged 10, who may even already have a Facebook profile. Also, before running the project in the school classroom, it is important to investigate if any of the children have been victims of, e.g., cyberbullying. If this is the case, they need to be given attention first when internal projects are conducted, so that they are empowered to open up and discuss their experience.
Project implementation difficulties
So far, our project has been run without any difficulties. The innovative aspect of using art – which, since ancient times, has been used as a tool in the transmission of ideas, values and lessons – gives the power to simplify complex issues, so that they become understandable and manageable by children.
What could be improved?
The project has reached a stage of maturity where it can be used ‘as is’, without any further improvements from our point of view.
Information about the organization that runs the project
Initiator: Safer Internet Hellas
Partner(s): (a) Digital Imaging and Prevention Unit, (b) Chiliodentri
Contact person: Dr Veronica Samara
Address: Kleisthenous 17, 10552 Athens, Greece
“We should never trust strangers on the Internet!” – Primary-school girl
“The Internet Farm allows us, even young kids, to understand that the Internet is good up to a certain extent; we have to be careful.” – Primary-school boy
“I will go home and change my passwords immediately. Today I understood how important they are!” – Primary-school girl
“I came from far away for this event, and I believe that this decision of mine says it all. It is really worthwhile to bring our children to this theatrical play, in order to receive a different approach to the issues.” – Parent
“It was very nice. I think my kids, all kids, had real fun. It was well designed; the main messages were the right ones. I believe that we – as we are using the Internet a lot – will all be more careful from now on.” – Parent
“We want our kids to be safe. Today we received many important messages, repeatedly, so they could be impressed into the children’s minds.” – Parent
“Ι intend to change my privacy settings in Facebook as soon as I get back home with my kids! This theatrical play was a lesson for me as well.” – Parent
“After a couple of days of the theatrical performance, a girl aged 10 revealed to me (and I immediately informed her parents) that she had received a ‘friend request’ from an unknown person in Facebook. Well, she should not be in FB in the first place, but … we have to go along with the reality!” – Educator