The Case for NOT Letting Younger Children Search Online (Sometimes)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s important for our kids to learn effective ways to find information on the Internet – to analyze search results, to check credibility of websites, to make decisions about what to read and what to skip. Preparing kids to do what we do as adults, many times every day, takes instruction and practice. But there are times when it may be more effective to provide a list of high-quality websites, rather than having kids find their own online information.

When we remove the searching and evaluating part of web reading, we give kids a chance to focus their brain power on reading an article or viewing a video to answer a question and deepening their knowledge about a topic. There is a concept called cognitive load, which refers to the amount of working memory our brain uses while completing a task. Too many challenging words, ideas, or details to process at once can overload our brain. When it comes to Web reading, cognitive load can especially challenge children who struggle with reading and those who have less experience with searching and reading on the Web.

One way to make a learning activity a bit easier is to reduce the cognitive load – that is to let the brain focus on a smaller portion of the task. For Web reading, this can occur when a parent, teacher, or librarian finds the websites for an activity ahead of time and posts these on a shared document or within an online learning space. Learners can benefit from the expertise of an adult reader making judgements about website quality and can better focus on the process of making sense of what they see on a handful of websites.

Creating a collection of websites clustered around a topic or theme does take a bit of time. But it’s time well spent when you can choose resources that align with the learning goals and with the children’s reading levels and interests in mind. One good trick for finding online resources for children is to type into the search box (Google or another search engine) the topic and “for kids” (gravity for kids) and the results will be geared for children. The resources may include websites, videos, podcasts, images, and graphics. All can be useful sources of information for learning.

When useful web links are located, begin collecting these in a single location. This can be a bulleted list on a document or in a digital tool, such as Blendspace, Padlet, Thinkglink, or Pinterest.

Creating your own list is great, but it’s possible you can find a list that has already been curated and just build from it. The lists below were developed by K-8 teachers, and lots of other lists can be found with a bit of searching online.

Plant Life

US Constitution

Severe Weather

Roller Coasters

Animal Coverings


For those times when we want kiddos to dig right into information and bypass the online searching and evaluating, presenting a list of digital resources is a good option. There must also be other times when our young Web readers get to make the decisions it takes to find information for themselves.

I’d like to give a special thank you to these K-8 teachers who generously shared their digital resource lists: Loryn Zoglman, Brianna Hovey, Mikayla Heincker, Jackie Dennis, Chloe Hill, Jessica Wason, Kevin Kramer, Courtney Klassen, Abbie Lavin, Leah Wagner, Jeryssa Harper, Cierra Garrison, Alexia Wells, Samantha Millican, Brandi Wells.



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