Letting Kids Be Kids, Online

AASL, General Interest, Policies, School Libraries

by Amy Steinbauer

Working in any kind of library guarantees some interesting stories about how all sorts of patrons might interact with us, which is why I love hearing stories from my librarian friends! My friend, and former classmate, Debby Vandersande, usually wins the award by telling me all about the children that she oversees as the Library Media Specialist at Kahala Elementary School. Debby was kind enough to illuminate me on the precarious nature of letting students work independently on the Internet.

A little more about Debby’s job- she’s been at Kahala Elementary School for about 6 years, the last three have been as the school librarian. The school serves pre-K through 5th-grade students in a neighborhood of Honolulu, HI. Before she took over as the librarian, the school library had been librarian-less since 2004. According to Ms. Vandersande, “…there were new computers, but the library was not set-up for open computer use outside of class time. I don’t think the library had any Internet or computer policies at the time.”

Policies in Place?

Being part of a public school system, Ms. Vandersande’s school adheres to the Hawaii Department of Education’s computer use policy.

Beyond that, she does not have any additional Internet policy. Part of being in a public school means that the Internet access is already filtered, and Ms. Vandersande has determined that that is enough to ensure that children are cooperating online. She is vocal about allowing students to explore the online world and build their digital literacies. As Ms. Vandersande states, “I didn’t really set any policies “in place.” Kids came in and asked to use the computers, and I said, “sure!” The asked if they were “allowed” to use Google, and I said “sure!” The asked if they could print, and I said, “sure!”

When I asked if she is concerned about monitoring what the students are doing online, she shared a funny anecdote with me.

The worst thing that has happened out of all of this freedom is that a student printed a Google image search of “sad puppies”. It wasted a lot of paper and ink, but it sure was cute!


As previously stated, Kahala Elementary School’s computer system has filters in place that block websites that can be useful for educational purposes like YouTube. At times, Ms. Vandersande will use StorylineOnline to override the YouTube filters. This can be helpful when students use the channel to create and post Public Service Announcements. Ms. Vandersande says, “I trust my students and none of them have ever found anything inappropriate when I’ve used the override.”

Filters are not a catch-all, and Ms. Vandersande’s students have had some missteps that have appeared despite filters in place. As she shares, “One time, Apple iTunes popped up unexpectedly while kindergarteners were using the computers, and a scantily-clad singer was front and center, with scandalous dance moves, and a student shouted that she was “touching her privates,” and described that she was barely wearing a cloth across her chest. That was a surprise! It was a lesson that filtered Internet is not always appropriate.”

Kids and Computers

When they are not looking up “sad puppies.” Ms. Vandersande’s students will search for funny and strange things like “scary dogs” and “ghost dogs.” They like to look up lots of information about animals, and love using Scholastic’s BookFlix which feature animated versions of picture books.

School Wide Reactions

Ms. Vandersande is lucky to have a flexible and supportive Principal who understands the importance of a strong school library. Her principal loves that the library and the computer have open policies. Some teachers complained originally that Ms. Vandersande would allow students to play and explore on the Internet and not force them into using computers for their homework after school. However, Ms. Vandesande’s enthusiasm for letting kids be kids eventually won them over! As she states,

“there are always going to be students who abuse the freedom, and make mistakes. But, students are better off learning from the mistakes in elementary school than in adulthood. And, I don’t believe in limiting the rights to all students just because a few students abuse it.”

Finally, Ms. Vandersande admits that while she also allows food in the library, the only computer to be damaged by this rule was her own, and it was damaged by her! She concludes by stating, “Kids can be responsible if you let them!”


Amy Steinbauer is the Early Childhood Outreach Library at the Beaumont Library District in Southern CA. She drives a bookmobile and specializes in outreach and early literacy! She has her MLISc from University of Hawaii, and a B.A. in English from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. She won the 2015 Conable Scholarship to attend ALA Annual in San Francisco, and will be presenting at the 2016 Annual conference in Orlando, FL. She loves professional development, and is currently serving as a Board Member at Large for the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS), is on ALA’s Public Awareness Committee, and on the SASCO Committee through NMRT. She loves mermaids, and advocating for libraries, and will one day combine them both to take over the world! Until then, follow her on twitter @merbrarian.

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