There are good reasons for caution when doing Web-based research. Unlike textbooks and supplemental education materials created by major school publishing companies, which usually face rigorous review prior to publication, Web sites can be created by any organization, and can showcase information that hasn't been tested for validity or bias.
So how do you steer your child in the right direction? One terrific resource is the Association for Library Service to Children (www.ala.org/ala/alsc), which has created an online directory of "Great Web Sites for Kids." The organization has vetted its recommended sites based on factors including authorship/sponsorship, purpose, design, stability and content. In general, the ALA recommends sites created by readily identified authors, with clearly cited sources of information, limited advertising and easy navigation. The ALA then lists dozens of sites that have been shown to provide useful, age-appropriate content for students from pre-school through middle school. The sites cover numerous topics, including literature, history, mathematics, the arts and more.
As you go about building your own online library, you take a look at the following sites, all of which meet the ALA's criteria while providing resources that are engaging to students of all ages:
National Geographic Kids (www.kids.nationalgeographic.com). Created by The National Geographic Society, this colorful site is remarkably interactive and fun. Visitors can explore hundreds of topics that connect the earth's geography, plants, animals, ecosystems and more. The site features engaging games, videos and activities, and offers students the opportunity to create a personalized page of information suited to their interests.
Kinetic City (www.kineticcity.com). Produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, with major support from the National Science Foundation, Kinetic City bills itself as "an amazing collection of science experiments, games and projects for everyone to enjoy, both online and away from the computer." The site offers numerous activities that spark and build on children's interest in science while strengthening knowledge and skills tied to science standards that have been adopted by many schools and school districts.
Figure This (www.figurethis.org). Created by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, this site emphasizes enjoyable activities to build academic skills and knowledge. It has numerous mathematics challenges designed to be completed by children and families working together. The challenges are word problems based on real-life subjects, divided up by various mathematics skills including algebra, geometry, statistics and more.
EDSITEment (www.neh.gov). Created by the National Endowment for the Humanities, this site is a resource for students, teachers and parents. It's a gateway to more than 100 carefully-vetted sites relating to humanities subjects, including U.S. and world history, arts and literature, foreign languages and social studies. Teachers turn to it for lesson plans, and students can rely on it for content that meets rigorous academic standards.
Kids.gov (www.kids.gov). Created by the Federal Citizen Information Center, this site provides links to hundreds of learning Web sites that have been vetted to ensure they provide reliable information. The site includes links to federal agency Web sites created especially for students, along with sites of other reputable organizations, all organized by subject.
Homework Help Sites. There are many sites that may be useful for homework. Lauded by U.S. News & World Report, Washington Families and the Kansas City Star, Homework Spot (www.homeworkspot.com) is a portal to numerous sites organized by subject matter. Also, many state library systems have online resources that link students (or anyone) to librarians who can track down virtual resources on various subjects. AskNow (www.asknow.org), for example, offers 24/7 access to librarians throughout the state of California. Other states, such as Ohio (www.alabamahomework.orgwww.alabamahomework.org) and Alabama (www.alabamahomework.org), offer similar services free of charge. Go to www.google.com and type in "online homework help in (your state)" to learn more.
These are just a few of the on-line resources available to students of all ages. Given the virtual necessity of the Internet in PreK-12 education, many teachers also have a list of Web sites that can be tapped for research, homework and classroom activities. For this reason, it's a good idea to talk with your child's teacher about recommended sites during the first academic quarter. Then bookmark those sites on your home computer for easy access during the coming months. That way you'll have a built-in navigation system for exploring the online universe, and charting a path to achievement all year long.