Much of the day-to-day toolbox for homeschoolers has moved online just as it has for the rest of us. The majority of of home-based curriculum structures, schoolwork, planning portfolios, testing, and other interactions can now occur over the internet. It only makes sense that we recommend those who are in charge of homeschooling should do so with cybersecurity at the forefront of their mind.
Currently, there are 2.3 million children being homeschooled in the United States, and it is also taking hold in other countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Kenya, and Thailand. Some consider home-based education to be the fastest growing form of education. What percentage of those kids are regularly learning anything about online safety? Our gut is telling us that it’s woefully low.
With this in mind, let us give you some tips for how to integrate cybersecurity awareness into your homeschooling repertoire, and convince you why it’s so important for you to do so.
1. Add basic online safety practices into the curriculum.
Making cybersecurity an essential part of your children’s homeschooling curriculum has multiple benefits. Teaching them how to be safe when going online will also help to guard against many of the kinds of threats they may encounter during connected schooling.
We know it sounds like an overwhelming subject to tackle, but there are plenty of resources out there to help you. We continually offer a wide variety of security awareness content that you can download and add into lesson plans free of charge. You can also check out Stay Safe Online’s list of resources, which include lots of useful tip sheets and infographics.
Engaging with kids as early as possible will make the process of learning about online safety habits more natural. Make the learning fun and age-appropriate (have you seen our free Security Cat’s™ Super Awesome Activity Book?), and regularly take the time to have critical thinking discussions about on-trend cyber topics.
2. Safeguard personally identifiable information (PII).
Although you should already have good protection methods in place for your family’s private information, this burden is intensified when you’re also in charge of sending information into legal institutions or homeschooling services. Your children are just as much (arguably more) at risk for identity theft as adults.
If you ever need to mail paperwork, scan and send sensitive documents, store records, or fill out forms with confidential data sent online, it’s very important for you to understand and implement strong practices for safeguarding that private information. (Our free Focus On: Personal Security digest might be a good place to start learning if you feel lost at sea!)
3. Install security software on devices used for homeschooling.
Malware remains the root cause of almost all cyber attacks, but you can keep much of that threat at bay by investing in good anti-malware software. Everyone makes mistakes, especially little ones who are just beginning to learn about the digital world. Good anti-malware software can often soften the blow. (But only if you also keep it up to date!)
There are also other apps and plugins to consider for your specific homeschooling needs, including blocking curious kids from sites that they have no business visiting, activity monitoring and timers, and more. Just make sure that whatever you download comes from a reputable organization!
4. Backup, backup, backup, then backup again.
What would you do if the device that your child has saved all their work on for the current school year suddenly crashes? Do you have a backup in place? What if your current device is completely compromised (e.g. ransomware); do you have an “off-site” backup? We can promise that a little data insurance will likely go a long way for you somewhere down the line.
You should set up automatic backups to multiple locations. We recommend backing up to at least one (if not more) hard drives in addition to a subscription cloud-based backup, all with good encryption (AES-256 preferably) to prevent any data from being stolen if anything is compromised.
5. Create a list of cyber aware chores for the whole family.
It’s one thing to teach your child how to do something, and another to ask them to actually do those things regularly. Making digital responsibilities an organic part of daily, weekly, or monthly chores can go a long way in developing your child’s code of internet ethics.
Ask everyone to sign a pledge to be cyber safe (like this pledge to be Online Safety Superheroes) and set up a chart of tasks that need to be performed regularly. We have a few simple recommendations for online safety-themed chores to add into their routine.
Don’t forget to practice what you preach! Kids mimic their parents and mentors first; make sure you’re setting a good example.
It’s vital that we teach our children to be good digital citizens as our world becomes more and more connected. While these tips are targeted at home educators, this is also good advice for any cyber-savvy parent who wants to give their kid a digitally-responsible upbringing.
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