Email and the Elementary Schooler. . .

I had an interesting question via email from a reader the other day and thought it might be something that resonated with other readers.  A parent of a fourth grade child wrote:

My son, who is in fourth grade, came home on Friday and told us that he needs an email account.  He said that all of his friends have one and he needs to get one to share writing stuff with his  writing partner. After I picked his father off the ground from the the heart attack he had after hearing this, my son mentioned a g-mail account.  He said that some of his friends have that ….

Do you know what g-mail is? What would you recommend we get a nine year old?
 
I am trying to keep in mind that he will be in middle school in two years  and will be exposed to a lot of technology and I think that is great… But,  I want to protect him from all the evils of the world (the mom thing)… I hope you don't mind, but I thought you might be able to help me choose an appropriate program that he could grow into and still be safe/ age appropriate.
 
If you have a chance, I would love to know what you think…
 
Anyone else had that same heart attack anytime recently?! 
What's funny is that even as a tech-junkie, I agree that having an email address in fourth grade isn't something that I'd be totally comfortable with either!  Strangely enough, though, the reason some teachers are pushing in that direction isn't really because they want to see elementary students emailing one another!
 
Instead, it's because so many other free, web-based services that kids are using in schools to create, communicate and collaborate require an email address to login.  While some services allow teachers to create dummy email accounts for kids, others don't—-which means if a teacher wants to use a service to support or enhance instruction in their classes, email addresses are needed for every kid.
 
Now, I use technology in my classroom more than most anyone, and I have yet to use a service that requires kids to have an email address.  Instead, I avoid services that require users to have addresses if I can't create dummy logins for them.  The way I see it, there are literally dozens of services out there, so I can ALWAYS find one that won't require an email address
 
Which means that parents who want to challenge any teacher's requirements that elementary children have email addresses would have a great leg to stand on.  The only challenge is that the fight will be exhausting!  You'll have a teacher who is convinced they're doing something instructionally brilliant—-and they may well have an engaging project planned—-who ends up seeing you as the Neighborhood Luddite. 
 
It'll be bitter.
 
As far as Gmail goes, it is simply Google's free webmail service:  http://mail.google.com.  For anyone, adult or child, who is interested in creating a free email account, Gmail is definitely the best choice because when someone creates an account for Gmail, they're also creating a login that can be used for all of the Google services—-which is a pretty impressive collection. 
 
Google account holders can create their own blog in Blogger, can create shared documents and wikis in Google Docs, can do video and voice messaging with other Google users, and can instant message with Google Talk.  They can also maintain a personal calendar and To-Do list.   
 
While those services are probably not necessary or totally appropriate for an elementary school student right now, someday they will be—-and Google's likely to continue to improve their offerings over time.  My bet is that everyone will want a Google account in the future!  
  
For now, though, here are some ways for tackling the elementary email challenge
Consider creating one family Google account:  It wouldn't hurt for a family to have a Google account.  Honestly, there are some great tools in the Google Suite, so parents might end up benefitting even more than their children!  Over time, you'll find ways to use the Google products that you can pass on to your kids—and they'll likely find ways to use the products and pass them on to you as well!
 
The best part is that by creating a family account with one username and password, parents will be able to monitor anything and everything that comes and goes from the Gmail inbox. 
 
That's lockdown safe!
 
 
Create a Gmail account for yourself and "link" an address for your child:  One of the ways that the most progressive elementary teachers that I know are getting around the email challenge is using the "linking" feature in Gmail.  Here's an article written by an elementary teacher in Australia describing how that works in her classroom:
 
 
Basically, parents create a Gmail address for themselves—-something like william..ferriter@gmail.com.  That would be the only address that would actually send and receive email
 
Then, when your child needed to use an email address to sign up for services, he/she would use an address that looked like this:  william..ferriter+thomas@gmail.com (where "thomas" is replaced by the name of your child).  Your child doesn't have to create their own Google account at all.  Just by adding the "+thomas" to the end of your existing address, they'll have an address that can be used to create accounts with other services, but all email will come straight to you
 
In this scenario, parents could decide whether they wanted to share their Google Account password with their child or not.  If they didn't, their child would have the email address that they needed to create accounts with other services without having the ability to see, send or receive emails. 
 
The only logistical hitch is that if parents don't share their password with their child and he/she receives an email necessary for confirming a new account at a service they're trying to use for school, parents would have to share those confirmation emails with their kids.
 
 
Allow your child to create their own Google account:  At some point in the future, every child will need his/her own email account—-and you'll probably be comfortable with that!  Whenever you feel like you're ready to take that plunge, definitely use Gmail.  Google offers a ton of options beyond email to users that are only going to get better over time. 
 
I think if it were my child, I'd probably go with option 2.  That way, I'd still maintain complete control over email monitoring but my child would have an address that could be used to access other services.  
 
And by doing so, parents would be able to start experimenting with Google, making them better prepared to support their children when the time came that they were ready for their own accounts. 
 
Does this make any sense? 

10 comments

  1. Spelling Games for Kids

    In our home, we resolved the email issue via having all email our daughter sends or receives come via our family email account delivered only to my PC. My spouse and I each have our own accounts, but as a family we share one as well. We intend to continue this method until the end of sixth grade. (On a related note, while she at times is allowed to borrow one of our cell phones, she is not permitted to have one of her own yet, is not allowed to IM and not allowed to post to any site without our prior approval.)

  2. Bill Ferriter

    Actually, Joe, the Gmail account approach is spot on and being used by dozens of schools, districts and classrooms all over the world.
    While you’re right that Gmail doesn’t allow users to have their OWN accounts until they are 13, the approach described above doesn’t require that kids have their own accounts at all. Instead, parents essentially are creating a folder within their own accounts where all email is sent.
    Which takes care of that parent oversight problem, too. Students can’t even access their email messages without their parent’s login information.
    Bill

  3. jose

    The gmail account approach is DEAD WRONG. Google has not parental oversight features and, per the Gmail terms of use, only those 13 and above may open an account.

  4. Melanie

    I think it is a good idea to teach kids about technology earlier rather than later. Being a high school teacher I find that many of my freshman come to my class having no idea how to use the internet for anything other than IM and Youtube.
    Additionally, I believe that if we teach them about this technology when they are young and how to properly us it we will see less of the inappropriate use in high school of the future.
    I just found out that our school provides not only every teacher and student an email address, but also the children at the school’s daycare. Email is not a luxury in high school, it is an absolute necessity. Those students who have not been exposed are at a definite disadvantage to those who have because as a content teacher, we do not have time to sit with the one or two who don’t know what they’re doing while the rest of the class just idly waits.
    I think some of the options outlined above may help with your comfort level in this situation, but I don’t think it is unreasonable for a child to utilize email.

  5. Glenn

    Paul’s school could be going another route and using Google Apps for Education. That is a platform that Google has for schools that allow them, free of charge, to give email addresses and google docs, calendar, etc. to learners and still maintain control over who can email in and out of the system.
    http://www.google.com/a/help/intl/en/edu/ is the link to check it out. I am in the process of setting this up for my school. The only cost is the expense of the domain name, and the person’s time who will be administrating it. Very small cost for the benefit.

  6. K. Borden

    Paul,
    Would it be safe to assume that your school makes a point to inform parents their children are being given email addresses and the use intentions?

  7. Paul

    All our students from grade 3 and up have Gmail accounts at our school. Gmail is the weapon of choice as Google has a ton of tools that integrate into a must-have collaborative learning and communication suite. It also gives students the much needed ability to register for, and use, web-based productivity applications (can of course be done with any email) – a key to 21C Literacy and Digital Citizenship.
    We communicate consistently what we are trying to achieve, and how the students are progressing. For the odd parent who just doesn’t “get it”, I repeat my following mantra – “Would you rather tell your children to stay away from the traffic, or teach them how to cross the road?” Now, depending on how busy your streets are, this should be a no-brainer. By far, the parent support for what we are trying to achieve has been phenomenal.
    We are currently fast-tracking our teachers through 23 Things – http://schoolzandtoolz.blogspot.com

  8. K. Borden

    In our home, we resolved the email issue via having all email our daughter sends or receives come via our family email account delivered only to my PC. My spouse and I each have our own accounts, but as a family we share one as well. We intend to continue this method until the end of sixth grade. (On a related note, while she at times is allowed to borrow one of our cell phones, she is not permitted to have one of her own yet, is not allowed to IM and not allowed to post to any site without our prior approval.)
    Less fettered access is a privilege to be earned over time after demonstrating sound judgment and good practices. Under our watchful eye, she can experiment, learn, practice, explore and build the experience needed to enter the digital world, hopefully as a responsible Netizen.
    When she was younger, we took the opportunity frequently to talk with her about the safe use of internet tools. This year, 5th grade, we began using a formal written pledge she has to sign and which remains posted. With it came increased freedoms when surfing the web.
    A few months ago, when typing in an address for a site she often visits to play a game, she mistyped by one letter and wound up getting an eyeful of porn. Sadly, it is that easy on the web to wind up where you don’t want to be. Fortunately, one of us was there when it happened. The experience bothered her and she asked to return to a more stringent filtering system for a while longer. She did not want that experience again. The web is filled with content that kids will find either by effort or error and supervision to guide that journey is needed.
    The letter writer noted “I am trying to keep in mind that he will be in middle school in two years and will be exposed to a lot of technology and I think that is great… But, I want to protect him from all the evils of the world (the mom thing)…” As the example I just gave demonstrates, even doing our best to juggle those sometimes competing concerns, things happen. If they happen with parents who are involved and trying their best as the letter writer did by writing to you, at least we can be there to do what parents do and guide our children toward someday being adults. As children they are “growing ups”, ready and in need of opportunities to become independent, not the burdens and responsibilities of being there without training and guidance.
    The only thing I would add to your suggestion Mr. Ferriter is that parents be sure to set the spam filters pretty high on their children’s email. Unfortunately even the title lines in some spam email can be troublesome.

  9. Dale Cain

    Another alternative is for the student to get an email account through Gaggle.Net. This is an email service that is designed for school use. With this service, every email, both inbound and outbound, is filtered for inappropriate language and content. We use it district-wide (every student K-12 has an email account) and have found it to be a great educational addition. The company is very responsive to suggestions and bug reports. All in all, I’d recommend them highly (and I’m a teacher, not a Gaggle employee).

  10. KJ

    I’m trying to remember when I got my first email account. I think it was in sixth grade. In fourth grade, i remember going with a friend to the local university where his dad was a professor and surfing the web on the computers in one of the labs. I only knew about three sites back then- my favorite being NASA for all the space pictures! I remember later on, sixth grade i think, getting a new desktop computer and AOL service ( 3.0!). I remember sending emails and instant messages to my friends from school. I remember going into chatrooms and thinking how cool the experience was. It is dangerous, and i would definitely monitor what the students were doing… but it is also a great teachable moment on Net Safety and responsible technology use. Like any of the new technologies (cell phones, digital cameras, internet, etc) we have surrounding us, we need to teach how to use and use them responsibly.