Children love their computers. Now one Internet site is trying to help them to stay safe online but to spend more time offline, reports Judy Mackie
It may seem ironic that an Internet site should encourage children to get out more and experience life, but then Bizzikid is not your average website. It is a fun, fast way to learn about what's going on so that children can spend more time doing it.
Bizzikid.co.uk is the brainchild of Sharon Marshall, who believes in giving primary-age children the time and opportunity to explore the things that interest them, and this plays a key role in the website's new safety campaign.
Her disappointment at the lack of online resources exciting enough to inspire her 11-year-old son prompted her to create her own child-friendly activity zone.
The site's host is Bizzi Sid, a surfin' dude who guides children through areas of schoolwork and suggests things to do in free time, some online and some not.
Bizzikid.co.uk has teamed up with the theatre in education company Live Wire Productions to produce Sid's Online Safety Show, which is relevant to all children who use the Internet. The first phase of the campaign, sponsored by BP, features all the currently recommended child safety dos and don'ts, but it also delves deeper by exploring the question of why children would want to make friends online rather than in the neighbourhood.
"This is something that needs to be asked," says Mrs Marshall, who lives in Inverurie, Aberdeenshire. "When you think about it, chatting over the Internet is an odd way to make friends, particularly when children are not supposed to give anything important away about themselves. It's asking for trouble, because if you are getting on well with someone, it's natural you should want to tell them more. I think it's unrealistic to expect children to hold back when adults get into difficulties by not being able to do so.
"That's why we are advising youngsters to focus on the Internet as a fantastic educational resource and to use it to find out how they can make friends in real life."
The safety campaign launch, at an Aberdeen shopping centre last month, featured a spin-the-wheel game hosted by "Sid" and members of Live Wire Productions.
As part of phase two of the campaign, children in the north-east of Scotland have been invited by local radio station Northsound1, to audition (or persuade friends and relatives to audition) to become the voice of Bizzi Sid on a CD-Rom. This will be available free to all schools in Grampian initially. The SOS Show will visit schools in the area during a special Internet safety week, but first there will be a local competition to find the lucky schools who will have the opportunity to play host to Bizzi Sid and his crew.
If sufficient sponsorship is forthcoming, the campaign could be rolled out to other areas in Scotland and the rest of Britain.
The CD-Rom and website highlight the safety rules with a range of interactive word and arcade-style games. As with the rest of the website content, Mrs Marshall wants these safety messages to be accessible to all children, regardless of their interests and abilities.
Adult visitors to Bizzikid.co.uk, a designated five-star school zone site, may be slightly surprised by the delivery of Bizzi Sid's Top Secret (Kids Only) tip, which, without giving too much away, concludes by emphasising the enduring importance of sport and citizenship in our lives.
"Citizenship teaches you how to be a better person and sport can make you a healthier individual. What could be more important than that?" says Mrs Marshall.
The site includes many other curriculum subjects, as taught by Mr Smeacher (the crazy teacher) on the Bizzikid School pages, through lessons, quizzes and experiments, as well as links to a range of other learning zones.
Where's The Fun Stuff? is Sid's guide to chilling out on the Internet and Free Time gives ideas for having fun offline based on where the child lives. It also has localised and general topical features, for example, Sid's guide to fireworks, with general knowledge, safety tips and fun projects with a bonfire night theme.
Bizzikid.co.uk is child friendly and safety conscience and, like any good companion, Sid doesn't mind being left alone while his chums go off to pursue their own interests.
ONLINE SAFETY TIPS * Stay safe on the Internet and avoid wasting time by only using recommended sites.
* Before signing up for anything on the Internet, ask for permission from the adult looking after you.
* Online friends are not as good as friends you have met.
* Always tell an adult you trust if anybody asks you personal information online or wants to meet you. They might be lying about who they really are, so beware.
* Some e-mail messages can be bad, so only accept messages from people you know.
* Help your friends to stay safe on the Internet by telling them about your favourite sites.