I had an interesting question via email from a reader the other day and thought it might be something that resonated with other readers.  A parent of a fourth grade child wrote:

My son, who is in fourth grade, came home on Friday and told us that he needs an email account.  He said that all of his friends have one and he needs to get one to share writing stuff with his  writing partner. After I picked his father off the ground from the the heart attack he had after hearing this, my son mentioned a g-mail account.  He said that some of his friends have that ….

Do you know what g-mail is? What would you recommend we get a nine year old?

I am trying to keep in mind that he will be in middle school in two years  and will be exposed to a lot of technology and I think that is great… But,  I want to protect him from all the evils of the world (the mom thing)… I hope you don’t mind, but I thought you might be able to help me choose an appropriate program that he could grow into and still be safe/ age appropriate.

If you have a chance, I would love to know what you think…

Anyone else had that same heart attack anytime recently?!

What’s funny is that even as a tech-junkie, I agree that having an email address in fourth grade isn’t something that I’d be totally comfortable with either!  Strangely enough, though, the reason some teachers are pushing in that direction isn’t really because they want to see elementary students emailing one another!

Instead, it’s because so many other free, web-based services that kids are using in schools to create, communicate and collaborate require an email address to login.  While some services allow teachers to create dummy email accounts for kids, others don’t—-which means if a teacher wants to use a service to support or enhance instruction in their classes, email addresses are needed for every kid.

Now, I use technology in my classroom more than most anyone, and I have yet to use a service that requires kids to have an email address.  Instead, I avoid services that require users to have addresses if I can’t create dummy logins for them.  The way I see it, there are literally dozens of services out there, so I can ALWAYS find one that won’t require an email address.

Which means that parents who want to challenge any teacher’s requirements that elementary children have email addresses would have a great leg to stand on.  The only challenge is that the fight will be exhausting!  You’ll have a teacher who is convinced they’re doing something instructionally brilliant—-and they may well have an engaging project planned—-who ends up seeing you as the Neighborhood Luddite.

It’ll be bitter.

As far as Gmail goes, it is simply Google’s free webmail service:  http://mail.google.com.  For anyone, adult or child, who is interested in creating a free email account, Gmail is definitely the best choice because when someone creates an account for Gmail, they’re also creating a login that can be used for all of the Google services—-which is a pretty impressive collection.

Google account holders can create their own blog in Blogger, can create shared documents and wikis in Google Docs, can do video and voice messaging with other Google users, and can instant message with Google Talk.  They can also maintain a personal calendar and To-Do list.

While those services are probably not necessary or totally appropriate for an elementary school student right now, someday they will be—-and Google’s likely to continue to improve their offerings over time.  My bet is that everyone will want a Google account in the future!

For now, though, here are some ways for tackling the elementary email challenge:

Consider creating one family Google account:  It wouldn’t hurt for a family to have a Google account.  Honestly, there are some great tools in the Google Suite, so parents might end up benefitting even more than their children!  Over time, you’ll find ways to use the Google products that you can pass on to your kids—and they’ll likely find ways to use the products and pass them on to you as well!

The best part is that by creating a family account with one username and password, parents will be able to monitor anything and everything that comes and goes from the Gmail inbox.

That’s lockdown safe!

Create a Gmail account for yourself and “link” an address for your child:  One of the ways that the most progressive elementary teachers that I know are getting around the email challenge is using the “linking” feature in Gmail.  Here’s an article written by an elementary teacher in Australia describing how that works in her classroom:


Basically, parents create a Gmail address for themselves—-something like william..ferriter@gmail.com.  That would be the only address that would actually send and receive email.

Then, when your child needed to use an email address to sign up for services, he/she would use an address that looked like this:  william..ferriter+thomas@gmail.com (where “thomas” is replaced by the name of your child).  Your child doesn’t have to create their own Google account at all.  Just by adding the “+thomas” to the end of your existing address, they’ll have an address that can be used to create accounts with other services, but all email will come straight to you!

In this scenario, parents could decide whether they wanted to share their Google Account password with their child or not.  If they didn’t, their child would have the email address that they needed to create accounts with other services without having the ability to see, send or receive emails.

The only logistical hitch is that if parents don’t share their password with their child and he/she receives an email necessary for confirming a new account at a service they’re trying to use for school, parents would have to share those confirmation emails with their kids.

Allow your child to create their own Google account:  At some point in the future, every child will need his/her own email account—-and you’ll probably be comfortable with that!  Whenever you feel like you’re ready to take that plunge, definitely use Gmail.  Google offers a ton of options beyond email to users that are only going to get better over time.

I think if it were my child, I’d probably go with option 2.  That way, I’d still maintain complete control over email monitoring but my child would have an address that could be used to access other services.

And by doing so, parents would be able to start experimenting with Google, making them better prepared to support their children when the time came that they were ready for their own accounts.

Does this make any sense?

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