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Making cyber security fun for children

As the issue of staying safe online impacts people in their personal and professional lives, Frances O’Neill, founder of Story Learning, discusses a project that is advocating for cyber resilience skills to be developed in the early years

Children are growing up in a digital world. According to a recent report by Ofcom, 97% of children in the UK have access to the internet with 86% of 5-7-year-olds using tablet devices to go online.

As a result of living in a hyper-connected digital environment, cyber-attacks on banks and businesses and the hacking of our personal information are ever-present dangers. We all need to be vigilant and improve our cyber resilience skills and the earlier we learn these skills, the better.

We don’t want children to be like some grown-ups who use the same password for everything; we want to embed good cyber resilience skills in our early years learners.

We are hardwired to remember stories, and this is why stories have been used as a way to teach people since the beginning of time.

Together with Education Scotland we have created a storybook 'The Bongles and The Crafty Crows' (click here to visit the website) with a rhyming story that encourages young children to recognise the importance of creating difficult to guess passcodes and passwords. The story follows the Bongles characters trying to keep their treasure secure from the crafty crows who are rather good at ‘shoulder surfing’ and cracking codes.

'The Bongles and The Crafty Crows' is the latest in a series of illustrated children's books, ebooks, and animated audiobooks that tell imaginative, funny, and eco-friendly stories about the Bongles characters. The Bongles are colourful bouncy creatures who reuse, repair, and upcycle objects that wash up onto the pristine shores of their paradise-like island.

The book, which is also available in Gaelic, raises awareness of the importance of secure passcodes and strong passwords made up of three random words. The animation, games and learning activities on the website reinforce this message (click here to view the website). The aim is to help children navigate their digital world safely and more securely.

Our vision is that good ‘cyber hygiene’ becomes embedded in early years learners and that the children encourage good practice at home, teaching their parents and carers about the importance of cyber resilience.

Sixty thousand books are being distributed to every Primary 1 pupil in Scotland. Education Scotland is running a series of webinars, and these are reaching thousands of children.

We developed the story with children, and they even came up with the name of the book. The story is filled with wonderful ideas from the children’s amazing creative imaginations, and it speaks directly to them.

Education Scotland set up a group of advisory teachers who tested the story with their five-year-old pupils, so children have been at the heart of this project from the outset. The advisory group of teachers also developed the learning activities; there are 14 different lesson plans for parents and carers to download and use at school or at home.

We believe this storybook for early years learners is a world first. With this book, Scotland wants to create a cyber resilient nation and we hope this innovative initiative inspires other governments to follow our lead.

We are digital citizens, members of a wider digital community, and it’s important to recognise that we are interlinked and responsible for not just our own but for other people’s digital safety and security.

The Bongles books have stories of cooperation and teamwork at their core, and these too are good skills to learn as we all rely on one another to have good cyber hygiene. A slipup from one person who is taken-in by a phishing scam and clicks on a bad link can compromise a whole organisation - we all need to improve our cyber resilience skills so that we can protect one another and live in a secure cyber world.

Click here to find out more about 'The Bongles and the Crafty Crows' 

About the author

Frances O'Neill is founder of Story Learning, creating stories with a purpose - to engage, inspire and inform

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The Bongles and The Crafty Crows

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