The onslaught of news in our 24/7 information culture can be overwhelming for adults. When it comes to keeping up on current events and understanding a large and complex world, that task can be even more difficult for kids.
Former Today Show producer Claudia Heitler started Here There Everywhere: News for Kids to address that problem head-on, presenting stories about U.S. and world events that are aimed directly at elementary school-aged kids (and their parents/caregivers). Heitler recently took on Montclair resident and NYU professor Lukas Haynes as a guest writer and editor of world/politics stories and is continuing to expand the depth and range of stories presented on HTE. She recently spoke with Barista Kids about launching the site and the challenges of presenting troubling news to young readers.
Why did you start Here There Everywhere?
For the past couple of years, when my kids were in the tub, I’d flip through the paper to try to find them a couple of news items to talk to them about while they were in there. Even when I went on news sites specifically for kids, I found that it was still too complex for them, because they were younger than who those sites are generally geared for or it was too light for what I was looking for. So, HTE is kind of harder news for younger kids, but with lots of the fun stuff, too.
I also really strongly believe that this is a way for kids to connect with their world. It’s to give them some context for their place in the world. That’s why the site’s name, Here There Everywhere, is based on “place” rather than what most news outlets are traditionally based on, which is the sense of time (Time, Newsweek, Today, Tonight, Now, 60 Minutes, etc). This isn’t meant to have that sense of urgency to have information right away that we as adults tend to have. This is a step back from that. If you understand that you’re part of the world unfolding all around you, and know a little bit about it and ask questions about it, then you can make better decisions about it for yourself. It’s a means of providing access and giving kids the feeling that they have a voice.
What sort of response have you gotten from kids?
That’s what keeps me going. It’s when a child sends me a letter with a Forever stamp on it because they thought I’d like it and they now know what it is. Or when a child emails to tell me he loved the Iditarod story and wishes he had 10,000 husky dogs. Or after being told that Florida was the only state that didn’t have snow, a child tells me that his grandmother lives in Florida. These are the seeds of connecting with the world that make me feel it’s worth it.
What are the challenges that come with presenting stories like tragic disasters or the killing of Osama bin Laden?
I waffled about whether to even write the piece about Osama bin Laden or tell my second-grader about it the next day. But my husband and I talked about it and realized that he was 100% going to hear about it at school the next morning, and we would rather he hear about it from us first in a responsible way. I stayed up through the night writing that piece for my website, thinking some other parents or teachers may feel the same. And they did. That has been far and away the most read piece on my site.
The main challenge, though, is trying to find language that doesn’t over-share. Kids are different and what I don’t want is to push them, especially kids that aren’t mine, into topics they may not be ready for. There have been times when I flipped through the paper and my kids asked me what’s going on in the world, and I say “Oh, nothing!”; some days, the world sure can seem like a scary place. I am personally all for a little filtering, both by omitting stories altogether or only vaguely referring to some of the more disturbing aspects of a story. This is something I take seriously. I am happy to start the conversation, but I want to leave it up to the parent to decide to what extent to continue it.
When was the moment when you thought, “Yeah, this is really working”?
When I overheard my son telling his friends proudly that his mom does this and then tried to send one of his play-dates home with my business card!