Online Safety and Digital Citizenship for the Younger Set: Hector’s World

Following on from our blog yesterday about the need for creating a culture of respect and dignity both online and off, today we want to feature Hector’s World, a website that encourages this approach from an early age (see also our previous features under “Reviews“).  

As their website notes, Hector’s World is a subsidiary of NetSafe, New Zealand’s cybersafety organization.  ”It is a free online learning resource for children 2-9 years of age. Hector and his friends live in the magical world of Silicon Deep where their whole community is learning about the digital world. Children can be entertained and have fun as they learn about serious and complex topics like online privacy and safety.

The key to the success of Hector’s World is the very engaging characters, and character-driven storylines. Young children engage with the material emotionally as well as intellectually. They can use the characters as role models until they are old enough to develop their own critical thinking and online skills. Great creative giants like Walt Disney understood the communication power of animation with children. We are using that strategy to give children the best possible start to their life with ICT (information and communication technologies). We help them mature into caring, capable and responsible members of the online community. As well, we are offering an effective tool to parents, teachers, librarians and others to build children’s understanding of digital citizenship.”

Learning Objectives

Their website states that, “back in 2004 when Hector and his friends were becoming a reality, we were firmly committed to the development of cybersafety (or online safety) education for children 4-10 years old.   As our understanding changed of how young children actually were when they became active ICT users, we re-defined our target age group to 2-9 years of age.  Our notion of what education they need as they begin a lifelong use of ICT has also evolved.

When educating 2-9 year olds about the online world, we want to lay a solid foundation with our learning objectives.  But we realise those learning objectives need to be about more than just pure cybersafety or security knowledge (emphasis added).  They need elements of other disciplines as well – media literacy, information literacy and digital literacy.  Yet to best lay that holistic foundation of basic concepts, these traditionally distinct areas of learning must no longer be separate.

What term could unite them?  At Hector’s World, we think it is ‘digital citizenship’ (emphasis added).  Not only can this term embrace all of the necessary learning areas, but it can additionally put a positive emphasis on the values of being a citizen – respecting yourself, respecting others, caring for yourself and caring for your community (emphasis added).  These are powerful and important messages for young children as they make their way in the online world.”

We couldn’t have said that better ourselves, so we didn’t!

Target Audience

Hector’s World is suitable for children at home, in early childhood settings, primary school classrooms, libraries, church schools, community centres and more.  Older siblings and student mentors have an important role too!

For Parents

The website provides some great resources for parents.  We applaud the approach that ”the early years are the best time to lay a  learning foundation to help children mature into confident and capable digital citizens.  The ideal is to start education when your child first has access to the technology.  These days it is not uncommon for that access to start before the age of 2.  This means the education must be appropriate for the developmental level of the child, yet consistent and flexible enough to evolve with that child through their young years.

Hector’s World (HW) is an educational programme for children aged 2-9 years old which offers them a  magical undersea world in which to learn and play. Through the adventures of Hector and his friends, we promote the skills, knowledge  and values children  need online – the ‘building blocks’ of digital citizenship.

Your support, active involvement, and interest are so important as your child begins their life online. With Hector’s World, that can be lots of fun!”

There are really well-written, well-informed, and useful sections on the importance of Trusted Communication, Digital Citizenship, Virtual Worlds,  Something’s Happened!, and more.

For Teachers

This section has valuable resources such as ideas for Working With Parents, Lesson Plans and Resources, plans for a Digital Citizenship Week, digital citizenship Mentoring, links to Research, and much more.

What the Experts Say

This section of the website “will include video and audio interviews with experts around the world and will be updated regularly, so check back again soon.”

Our Editorial: In our humble opinion, this is ONE IMPRESSIVE WEBSITE.  The people behind Hector’s World really “get it.”  Their resources “tick many of the boxes” we currently know are important for effective online safety and digital citizenship education (see our blog on Youth Safety on a Living Internet).  It provides interactive educational opportunities for children to learn new skills and knowledge over multiple sessions; is not a fear-based approach but rather promotes and establishes a baseline norm of good behavior online; can easily be integrated into school curricula and/or used at home; respects young people’s expertise and gets them involved; helps young people learn the skills necessary to protect themselves and their friends; is age-appropriate; helps to create a supportive community of digital citizens; and, in case we forgot to mention it, is also GREAT FUN.  By the way, don’t forget to listen to their “Turn it Around” song all about the “power of a caring community” (click on Now Showing and choose the song, but be warned, you might get an “earworm” and be singing it all day!).

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