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Let kids use the Internet for non-school purposes

People who do surf the Internet for fun at work - within a reasonable limit of less than 20% of their total time in the office - are more productive by about 9% than those who don’t... Freedom to Surf (thanks to Committed Sardine for link)

Kids should be allowed to use the Internet at school for non-school purposes. Period.

Pursuing personal interests and recreational pursuits (so long as not illegal), should actually be encouraged, especially in our school libraries. Why?

1. Personal use gives teeth to the threat of suspending Internet use for disciplinary reasons. If Johnny likes accessing the world soccer scores each morning in the library, he may think twice about doing something that will suspend his Internet "privileges*."  If students are only allowed "academic" use of the Internet, how many will actually find such a consequence punitive?

2. Gives practice in reading, research, problem-solving and creativity. Kids online are practicing a lot of skills. If fluency, vocabulary building and intrinsic motivation for reading are goals, what difference does it make that a student is reading the reading primer or a personal interest website?

3. Show consistency of with other formats. Does your library carry Sports Illustrated and Seventeen? Have you developed a fiction collection for voluntary free reading? Do you have board games in your library or classroom? So why treat digital resources differently from paper?

4. Creates a positive school atmosphere. We have got to get over the idea that schooling has to be serious and boring to be effective. Think how much easier educators' work would be if kids actually wanted to be in school.

5. Helps close the digital divide. Many students still do not have access to online resources from home. Seems somehow cruel and unusual to deny this huge cultural influence to some students.

A common reason for disallowing "recreational" computer use has been that these resources may be in short supply. The reasoning goes that school work (writing papers, doing academic research, etc.) takes precidence over "fun." For all the reasons mentioned above, we need to re-think this blanket policy and find other means of "fairly" allocating computer time.

* I believe a successful case can be made that Internet access is a right rather than a priviledge given its uses in politics, business, education, medicine and other basic parts of society.

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Reader Comments (15)

Goodness, next thing you'll be squawking for is free access to water, letting the kids go to the bathroom when they need to go, and *gasp* free lunches for children who might go hungry otherwise.

We must incent them to the life we are programming them for--you, sir, are not an incentivist!

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Doyle

Here, here! Combine your post with Scott McLeod's Twitter post this morning to read ( ) "The Firewall Fear." Free Voluntary Web Surfing. Let's get on board.

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

I agree. When all of our computers are occupied and a student needs to use one for a school assignment, I make a general announcement about the need and always more than one student willingly gives up their computer for the other student.

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSandra

I find myself agreeing with this in principle, but I wonder if you include gaming in the "non-school purposes" category. Most of the non-school related use of computers is the playing of games, not checking out highlights of the previous night's hockey game. Thoughts?

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBryan

@ Doug
Intriguing post. We started allowing students (high school) to use their cell phones during their lunch period. The kids found this to be extremely logical but a handful of faculty members were a little dismayed. Allowing people a few normal human freedoms doesn't do much harm. I once worked for a principal who banned because she found it irritating that the male faculty would read articles during their prep period. One wonders how she was spending her own time at work if her focus was monitoring teacher web use during their down time.

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie A. Roy

Hea!r Hear! About 60 of my 4th and 5th graders are members of "The Library Lunch Club". That entitles them to eat lunch in the library and afterwards surf on the computers to their hearts content. They explore, do e-mail, IM each other and play games that involves much banging and popping. It's the best motivator I've ever seen for getting 4th & 5th grade Hispanic books to read (you have to read to be a member) and it shows in our test scores. My 5th grade teachers love it because they have found it's an excellent discipline tool - as it stop that or you're out of the club for a week.

A couple of teachers raised their eyebrows but I pointed out that they play solitaire and read personal e-mail during lunch so why shouldn't the kids.

Granted the library is very noisy for during the lunch hour but there are worse things to worry about.

July 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGuusje

There are schools that seriously try to limit internet use to assignments? Crikey -- and I thought our education department had issues because it hates social networking...

July 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Hrebeniuk

This reminds me of when we first got digital cameras at my school and we kept them locked up after school or on weekends from both teachers and students. No one used them for any projects. When we let them check out the equipment to "play with" we found teachers incorporating them more in their classes. It helped build their confidence and encouraged them to think of the possibilities.

July 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBethany Smith

Hi Bryan,

I personally have no issue with kids gaming on library/school computers. I may have issue with certain games like Grand Theft Auto since I don't think they are developmentally appropriate (just as I wouldn't subscribe to Playboy for my library.)

For those who have an aversion to gaming in general, I'd suggest starting with "educational" games - and there are lots of good ones out there.

My view, anyway,


Hi Charlie,

Remember the old definition:

Puritanism: The fear that someone, somewhere, is having fun.

I think our schools are run by them!


Hi Guusje,

Great, practical example of theory in practice. YOU have convinced more readers with your comments than I ever will.



Hi Ellen,

I would bet the large majority of our school AUPs all say that the Internet is to be used for "school purposes only" and that is very narrowly defined.



Hi Bethany,

Too bad "play" has come to have such negative connotations. We learn so much by playing. I appreciate your comment - it rings true for many of us.


July 21, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi, Doug:

"what difference does it make that a student is reading the reading primer or a personal interest website?"

Actually, I'd argue that it makes A LOT of difference! Students are for more likely to be engaged, active readers if they're reading something they're interested in, than if they're slogging through a reading primer! I let kids surf to their heart's content in the library. The only rule: anyone who has school work to do has priority over general surfing/gaming.

Guusje: If you're reading this, I'd be interested to hear how you build the reading in to your library club, if the kids are on the computers during lunch. Do they read on their own? How do you ensure that they are actually reading? Thanks!

July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJeri Hurd

Hi Jeri,

I remember well as a junior-high (middle school hadn't been invented) librarian, have "struggling" readers in my class who couldn't seem to read cat or dog in the reading primer have no problem with carburetor in Car and Driver magazine. It was this experience repeated about a million times that sold me on the power of libraries in building reading scores.

So if kids learn by reading Car and Driver in paper, why not online???


July 22, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

This isn't the first time I've been asked about my Library Lunch Club - so I finally did a blog post!


July 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGuusje

Amen! I allow my 4th and 5th graders to earn 15 min. of free computer time on Fridays if they work hard all week long on our reading and writing but it also includes being respectful to each other daily too. 15 min. one day a week might seem small, but they can't live without it and it works! I only have them for 50 min. each day so 15 min. out of my time with them on Fri. is a nice chunk and they have complete control over what they do on the computers during that time. Don't worry, our school district's filter is pretty good and I'm always looking over their shoulders ensuring what they're viewing/doing isn't too inappropriate. :o)

July 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Hi Amy,

Thanks for your comment. I suspect the kids appreciate the opportunity.


July 26, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

To flee war, to protect the lives of themselves and their families, and must live with the rhythm of society, sometimes makes people feel comfortable smell. Be strong in the harshness of life, you will succeed.

April 4, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermario

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