Singing sensation Justin Bieber is not the main topic of classroom chatter in Kathleen Tilly’s grade 3 class at Eglinton Public School.
On this April day, students, eight to nine year olds are busy chattering away about topics such as federal politics, the earthquake in Japan and the latest Canadian to run the North Pole marathon.
The best part is, they’re actually excited to be talking about it.
The students are checking out TeachKidsNews.com, a news website dedicated to providing accessible and understandable news articles to kids from grades 2 to 8.
Launched in January, the site is a joint effort between Tilly, her husband Jonathan Ophek, who is a grade 4 teacher at Hillcrest Community School and parent Joyce Grant.
Grant, who is also a veteran journalist often visited Hillcrest to talk to the students about news and media litereacy.
The idea for a news website sprouted on one visit when Grant found the kids were more interested about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, than they were about entertainment news, or the latest in video gaming.
“They were really interested in what was happening in the world, what people were doing about it and really thinking about those problems,” Tilly says, as she watches over a handful of students working away on the computer.
The website combines journalism and education in an effort to get kids interested in the news and to ultimately get them reading and thinking.
Articles posted on the site are a collaborative operation between Grant, Ryerson University journalism students and freelance journalists who either create an original story or take an existing news story and simplify it into kid-friendly language.
Tilly and Ophek then provide each article with a learning summary, relevant to their existing curriculum, which can be used by teachers and parents.
“Kids watch the news most nights with their parents, they hear it in the radio, they see images all over the place,” Tilly said.
“It’s better to explain to them what’s happening rather than to have them confused.”
Being more aware of the world around them helps children and youth develop overall literacy skills, says Jacqueline Lynch, a professor at York University’s Faculty of Education.
“Children often show more motivation for learning when there is a purpose or function,” Lynch said. “Bridging literacy between the home and school gives them a purpose.”
As the website gains momentum, parents have called and emailed Tilly, Ophek and Grant with stories about how conversations at the dinner table have changed from what’s happening on the playground to the current situation in Libya.
“It’s real life,” Tilly said. “Kids want relevant and meaningful examples in their reading and in the content they’re learning about.”
In terms of exposing kids to violence or tragic news stories, parents need not worry, Tilly said.
All content is carefully examined by Tilly and Ophek before being deemed appropriate so that kids can roam the website freely.
Each article is tagged with the appropriate curriculum level so that kids can determine for themselves if they can understand the material.
Tilly, Ophek and Grant eventually hope to expand the website’s coverage to different regions of Canada.
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