Strictly speaking, Facebook doesn’t want anyone to have an account before the age of 13. Twitter, too. But there’s no one checking ID. Children today grow up with the internet as a presence they interact with all the time, omnipresent in home and school. Most education in online safety and social media use comes simply by osmosis. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

At Davis Drive Elementary, careful thought is being put into how to teach the very young in the information age. Kyle Hamstra is a kindergarten teacher at the Cary, North Carolina school, and he thinks there is no such thing as too young.

“We practice digital citizenship and talk about internet safety immediately. Those are the first lessons learned by elementary school students,” said Hamstra. It just makes sense. Other early lessons are in crossing the street safely and how to use a library – this isn’t so different.

At Davis Drive, students are given school-owned iPads to use as young as five years old. They don’t get to bring their own devices until fifth grade. Before then, they use intra-school social apps like SeeSaw to learn online safety and responsible use of social media. They can record their learning progress, chat with their friends, and show their work to their parents, all in a kiddie-pool version of the internet. In a sense, they’re learning to paddle before they inevitably wind up swimming.

Hamstra, who is also Davis Drive’s science and technology specialist, says he doesn’t encourage any of his students to have their own Twitter or Facebook accounts, but he knows that many of them do. He wants to keep folding social media into their everyday education, to show them how to establish positive and safe internet habits that will follow them into adolescence and adulthood.

He and many of the other educators at Davis Drive take extra steps to practice what they preach, keeping their social media accounts open to both students and parents, sharing student learning experiences and highlighting their teaching techniques to “tear down the wall between the classroom and the real world.”

What do you think of this gradual introduction of online safety and social media management into students’ lives? Do you think it will help or hurt them in the long run? Please share your thoughts in the comments.