Library offers 'digital sandbox' for parents

Helping children with their homework isn't always as easy as explaining how to find a lowest common denominator or reciting "I before E, except after C." As America moves further into the digital age, computers and technology are becoming an integral part of curricula at all grade levels.

"We want parents to be able to feel confident helping their kids not only with math and English homework, but with this whole new piece of their children's lives," said Gretchen Caserotti, head of children's services at the Darien Library.

The library will launch the new course, "21 Things for the 21st Century Parent" on Saturday, Feb. 6. It will run for 12 weeks, before finishing up in May, Caserotti said.

"We're going to have a kick-off party to demonstrate the site and make sure everyone is signed up. Then we'll have a finale partly at the end, but since it's only 12 weeks, we decided against regular check-ins," she said. Each of the class sessions following the party will be online.

"If they fall behind, that's OK. They get 12 weeks to do it," Caserotti said. The online format provides a lot of flexibility, allowing the course to fit in with a hectic or erratic schedule.

"It's meant to be Web-based so it can be convenient," she said. "There's never a good time for everyone, and by structuring it this way, they're really learning in an authentic way -- intellectually through doing the act, and physically through involving yourself in it."

The first installation will introduce participants to Web 2.0. In the second week, parents will set up a blog and add their first posts and an avatar. The blogs will serve as a way to connect with other participants and track progress throughout the remainder of the course.

The course syllabus also covers browsing and searching; "keeping up" through the use of RSS feed; social bookmarking; communicating through programs like Skype and GChat or text messaging; collaboration; photosharing; watching and uploading videos and podcasts; social networks like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter; working and playing online; and "Library 2.0" where participants can learn how the library uses these tools and download a free audiobook.

The skills taught through the course can benefit parents in their personal lives, and help them build confidence in their parenting roles, Caserotti said.

"There's no question that kids are growing up and there's an expectation that kids just get technology. But they don't; they need people to teach them," she said. "When kids run into road blocks, they look to their parents and caregivers, and parents need that confidence to be able to help their children."

Being Web-savvy can also help protect children on the Internet, by giving parents the ability to "customize what they feel, given family values, for search filters and settings," Caserotti said. Knowing and understanding copyright and ownership issues online can also help parents effectively explain these rules to their children, she said.

"I think at this point we all know, there's no question, we're not going back now. The way of thinking in a 2.0 kind of world is becoming the commonplace, and so it becomes even more important for parents to be participating in and understanding it," she said. "It can also make their lives easier. A lot of these tools are ways to make your job easier, and being a parent is a job."

There's also a lot of fun to be had online, and Caserotti said she hopes participants will genuinely enjoy the course.

"Something I think a lot about is the power of play, and I think people ... absorb more information in a meaningful way when they have fun with it," she said. "We wanted to make it feel fun. It's like a digital sandbox for parents to play in."

Those interested in signing up for the course can do so by stopping in at the library, calling the children's library at 203-669-5235 or e-mailing The course is free of charge, and registration is open through Feb. 6.