Most people learn to use search engines through trial and error.
You type something into the little box. Sometimes you get what you
are looking for. Sometimes you don't. Now imagine you are 9. You
can't type and you don't spell very well. How likely is it that
you'll find what you want?
Not likely at all, according to research by Alison Druin at the
Human Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland. She
discovered that children often gave up before they found what they
were looking for.
5 SEARCH ENGINES FOR KIDS
Accepts questions instead of key words. Offers suggestions about
how to expand and narrow a search.
GoGooligans.com Filters searches. Includes a point and
click option for kids who find it difficult to use the
Quintura.com Unique visual
search engine that uses word clouds to let kids see how different
keywords are related.
Produces a limited number of child-friendly results. Rolling the
cursor over a result lets kids see mini version so they can decide
whether it's worth a click.
encyclopedia, almanac, dictionary and atlas rolled into one
engaging search engine that is especially helpful for homework.
The challenges of searching don't keep kids from trying, and
what they are looking for may surprise parents. In a review of more
than 14 million searches by children under 18, Norton's
FamilyOnline found kids were most likely to search for information
about games, music, celebrities-and sex. (A full list of the top
100 searches is available at here).
These studies suggest there's a role for parents in teaching
kids to search effectively-and responsibly. Here are some
Direct young children toward kid-friendly search engines. Kids
in Druin's study used Google, even though they have better
Turn on the controls. If your child prefers adult search
engines, make use of filters. All the major search engines have
them. For Google or Yahoo, go to Preferences and select SafeSearch.
For Bing, go to preferences and choose the adult content
Teach keyboarding skills. Children who hunt and peck often don't
notice the auto complete function that suggests search words based
on what you type. Point out this feature and explain how it
Stress spelling. Some kids think spelling doesn't matter in the
age of instant messaging and spell checking. Wrong. Even the best
search engine won't find what your child can't spell.
Find out what your child wants to know.
Knowing what your child is looking for online will give you
ideas for dinnertime conversation. OnlineFamily software (available
free at onlinefamily.norton.com) keeps parents updated
on kids' online activities, including searches. Parents can also
make a list of unacceptable search terms, and the software warns
children if they are about to cross the line.
Explain how search engines work. Druin found kids assumed
whatever showed up at the top of the search was the "best" result,
so they rarely went past the first page. Help kids understand that
search engines use "spiders," robots that crawl all over the Web
and classify every page based on key words, tags, links and other
Teach a few tricks. Help kids brainstorm for key words that will
pinpoint the information they want. Be as specific as possible
(parrots instead of birds). Use the most important words first. Put
quotes around words that should appear together, such as names. Add
FAQ when looking for basic information or News when you want
information about current events.
Will children learn to use search engines without adult help?
Perhaps. But with a little parental guidance, they are likely to be
less frustrated and may even make better choices about what they
choose to find.
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