In recent years, schools and libraries around the country have crossed the electronic threshold and provided Internet access to millions of people, including many children. Now, a number of non-profit organizations, educational institutions, corporations and government agencies are teaming up to sponsor America Links Up, the first wide-reaching effort to encourage libraries, schools, community centers, and individual families to help children get online. The campaign is designed to demonstrate how kids can surf responsibly and have a rewarding and educational experience in the process.
The campaign officially kicks off on September 15, when Vice President Al Gore and U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley will engage in conversation with teachers, librarians, parents, and children in a National Town Hall Meeting in Washington, D.C. The meeting will include a discussion of why the Internet is important to our children and how adults can help with online safety. The kick-off will be broadcast on local cable stations and can be viewed online at the America Links Up site.
To tie with the effort, the week of September 14-20 has been designated as "Kids Online Week." The week will be commemorated around the country with special events sponsored by libraries, schools, and community centers. Check the listings at the America Links Up site to find out what events are taking place in your area. If nothing is scheduled, consider working with your local school or library to plan something. The America Links Up site offers resources for locally-organized activities, including curriculum ideas and sample press materials. The Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, also offers helpful resources. Kids Online Week kicks off an entire year of America Links Up activities, so it is not too late to get involved.
Looking for outstanding resources for kids? Several sites serve as excellent starting points for children on the Web. Yahooligans, from the publisher of Yahoo, is billed as "the Web guide for Kids." It works much like Yahoo, except all sites have been hand-picked as child friendly. Categories include "Around the World," "Science and Oddity" and "Computers and Games." Surfnet Kids is another site directed at familes. It archives Barbara J. Feldman's weekly syndicated column that reviews Web sites featuring areas of interest to kids. Recent features have focused on topics like tigers, summer movies and Jerry Lewis. Finally, the American Library Association has an outstanding collection of Great Sites! More than 700 sites are divided into age categories and subjects, with listings for children, parents, librarians, and educators.
The campaign aims not only to get kids online, but to promote safe and responsible surfing. Many parents are uneasy about providing their children with Web access, because they are unable to monitor the information that their children will receive. Blocking software can help alleviate some of these worries. Software products like Cyber Patrol, Cybersitter, and Surf Control offer Web sites with details about their products. You can also look into safety measures provided by your Internet Service Provider. Companies like AOL, CompuServe and Prodigy provide free filtering software, and in many cases ISPs have ways for families to limit children's viewing to various areas of their sites.
During the next year, the America Links Up program will provide information on the importance of making the Internet an educational and rewarding experience for everyone. The Internet offers a wealth of resources for children, from homework helpers to virtual tours of museums around the world. With the help of parents, teachers, librarians, and the general public, children can learn to use the Web safely, responsibly, and successfully.
For more information on the America Links Up program, including a listing of events and how to plan an event in your area, visit their Web site, at http://www.americalinksup.org.