It had to happen! While I was busily writing away about the School Library service changes, a press release was doing the rounds, showing that the National Library had responded to schools concerns, and rather than suddenly stopping the service, were prepared to provide a transition over several years. This will be a big help for concerns around budgets and helping people better understand the purpose behind the proposed changes.
The transition plan digram shows the growth of ‘online resources’ described as “quality, curated content and guides for content use”. So the issue I had planned to address continues to be key. What are online resources are available for children? and can they take the place of books?
First let’s look at what digital resources are suitable for younger students, say 5 to 8 year olds?
When I’m researching in preparation to write one of my books (designed to be of interest to 4-8 year olds), about half of my sources are books and half digital. I look for multiple sources of information so I can cross check information, and of course I look for sources I believe to be credible. I’m also looking for up-to-date information and online sources are particularly useful for new research on a topic and for scientific papers that might not be available in print. But here’s the thing, I’m not limited by a ‘reading age’. And because I also prepare bibliographies and lists of suggested websites on my topics, I know how little is out there for young readers particularly on New Zealand topics.
Access a School Library Service list of recommended sites for one of my favourite topics – the Rocky Shore and you’ll see how few resources there are suitable for primary age students. The best of these are the excellent Otago University Marine Studies site; Te Ara: the encyclopaedia of New Zealand which has tried hard with its short and long stories, to meet different reading levels; and Science Learn which is a great source for teachers of curriculum material, students will need guidance to use this site; and they are all most suitable for eight year olds and up. The best are of course all publicly funded, because how else can free websites be both comprehensive and research-based? Note: not on this list are a couple of other goodies – see my blogs Top 2 Sea Life Apps, Sea week resources – an update and 3 Top Nature Websites for Kiwikids.
The biggest challenge is reading levels – writing easy to read text and yet still providing ideas and information that fits with a young child’s developing knowledge of the world around them. This is specialised stuff and few websites are prepare to limit their audience by aiming their information at the very young, in the way an author, illustrator and publisher of a picture book is prepared to do. Let’s hope that the transitional plan allows for the development of high quality New Zealand resources that are designed specifically for the very young.