Government Sites for Children

By Darby Patterson
Government Technology Magazine

It is generally accepted that the younger generation has an innate aptitude for using information technology. Even leaders in electronic government admit to consulting with their children over challenges in using computer software and the Internet. Youngsters are fast, intuitive and natural users of technologies.

Some state governments have also recognized this and have created sites specifically for children, teens and teachers. A state’s portal – the front page of its Web site – can offer an opportunity to reach students with information about the state, government, history, fun facts and even competitive games. Using the Internet, entire classrooms can travel to the far corners of the nation, even to far away Alaska.

On Alaska’s government Web site there is specific link to a service called “Alaska Kids: No Grown ups allowed!” The state provides abundant information about a distant land where life is much different than it is in the “lower 49.” Kids can learn about Alaska’s state bug and its official land mammal. There is a wildlife video gallery and information about the extinct, but famous, Wooly Mammoth. There is even an animated Gov. Tony Knowles leaping up and down on a trampoline. On the more serious side, the state offers a feature called “Kids’ Money: Dough, Bread, Clams” that teaches young people about saving and investing.

The state of Washington is seldom left behind in the e-government race and its “Just for Kids” site is filled with entertainment and information. There are facts about the state, a curious cat named “Dr. Universe” who answers questions, a coloring book and homework help direct from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Particularly fun is the “Boomerang Box” where kids can find out how products get from where they are manufactured to where they are sold. It’s a worldwide journey inside a blue cargo container, decorated by Seattle students, that educates youngsters about international trade.

Arizona’s Web site also pays special attention to kids. Governor Jane Hull’s Kid’s Page links to history, wildlife and natural wonders. Of course, one of the nation’s natural wonders is the state’s Grand Canyon. The Web site leads to photos that create a 360-degree view of the world famous canyon in a format called “virtual reality.” The South Carolina portal leads to Knowitall.org and a wealth of information about the state’s long and illustrious history. Particularly interesting is a section that features the African Americana photo collection. It presents photographs and text about African Americans throughout the state’s history. There are also photos of “Yesterday’s Children” and a section where kids can find postcards to e-mail to friends.

Michigan does an excellent job with a difficult topic. On the state’s “Kids Corner” sponsored by the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, there are links to information about the effects of drugs and alcohol on drivers. A section called “Zipzerozilch” provides a frank description of what can happen to people who are arrested driving under the influence. There is also a section titled “The Dog Ate My Homework” that describes “lame excuses” for not doing homework and other pesky things that kids (and adults) put off.

Illinois offers some good “cents” advice on its Futures for Kids Web site. There is a page and links devoted to the Penny’s for Lincoln campaign that brings schools together with local banks to build the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. There are fascinating facts about pennies, a quiz and a classroom activity packet for teachers. The Illinois kid’s site also features information for teens about substance abuse and health issues.

Its north to Wisconsin for an illustrated presentation of “Making Laws in Wisconsin.” The page is sponsored by the State Senate and presents the process in a simple and concise language that introduces some new words and concepts specific to government. The main Wisconsin Kids Page, leads to more interesting features including a link to the U.S. Mint’s page for kids including a gold coin that comes “alive” with fun topics to explore about money. There is game, amazing cash facts, a brain-teasing quiz and more.

Features for kids that appear on the portal pages of some state’s Web sites, are demonstrating just how important digital government can be. Not only do the links educate, amuse and inform – they are performing a futuristic function. One of the primary concerns of government leaders is that the public has become increasingly “disengaged” from the democratic process. Cynicism and distrust are at an all-time high. Providing easy access to information and services through a government gateway can help to reverse this trend for an entire generation. Using a medium they love, youngsters can come to know government in a way never available to their parents. It’s yet another fascinating aspect of the “Digital Revolution.”

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