I took my oldest two boys to Bletchley Park many years ago thinking they would love looking at the exhibits and I would get fit mother points for combining an exciting train journey with an intertesting educational day out.
They were at that stage when tanks and military stuff was riveting and would go everywhere by train if they could. Bletchley station is only a few stops up the line from me, and Bletchley Park a short walk from the station, manageable even with a double buggy.
I have to say in all honesty it was less than riveting even for my khaki-mad sons - a collection of dusty lumps of machinery in glass cases in a succession of run-down sheds. The grounds were pretty but it was a rainy day so we headed for the cafe - big mistake. It smelled like cabbage and wee and was manned by some formidable old dears who stared sternly at my (well behaved) children and looked appalled that I was even considering spoiling their display of unappealing food. Children were most definitely not welcome! It was cold and dismal and i never went back.
Until this summer when we went to explore McAfee's new international Cyber Security Exhibition and Computer Learning Zone at Bletchley Park, as part of its five-year collaborative partnership with the home of the World War Two Codebreakers.
Workshops will be run at the new Computer Learning Zone to engage, inspire and educate visitors about the ever-evolving cyber threat. Children and adults alike will learn how the amazing achievements of the World War Two secret Codebreakers remain relevant today.
And the great thing is, that combined with the general improvements and updates at Bletchley Park, (including the cafe and coffee shop!) the two combined have managed to create a fantastic day out for all ages.
Instead of just staring at things that look like typewriters but aren't, we got to have a go at intercepting and decoding a radio signal, use huge interactive boards to work out secret messages and learn through a variety of modern media what like was like during the war, especially for those working at top secrete Station X and lots about internet safety including a dummy's guide to how https works which was I found really interesting.
But it's not just about computer-operated gizmos, films and displays- we had a fascinating tour with a real life person who threw in some fascinating facts, anecdotes and figures whilst challenging us to look around and spot things for ourselves.
The children got to take it in turns to carry a Home Guard-style fake gun and wear an ARP helmet and pose for pictures in a real sentry box while adults were amused and educated by the extremely knowledgeable guide who kept his tour talk light enough to be interesting to all ages and interesting enough to be educational.
My daughter was particularly interested in his stories about brave war-time carrier pigeons while my son liked hearing all about the motorbike couriers.
I loved hearing how people were recruited to work as code breakers. I don't want to spoil the surprise but put it like this, I would think twice about entering crossword competitions in the newspaper from now on!
We ended our day at Bletchley with a taster session with online safety officer Nicola who has a background in teaching- she got us all thinking by testing us on our knowledge of social networks, gadgets and websites whilst giving the children top tips on how to stay safe online. They coloured in masks to remind them that the internet is like a huge mask that people can hide behind, pretending to be someone else.
Here are some interesting statistics from McAfee and the Anti-Bullying Alliance;
o Half (45%) of parents are concerned about their child being bullied online
o Two-fifths (38%) of parents think that their child may have been bullied online
o A third (33%) of parents think their child may be a cyber-bully themselves
o Over half (53%) of children often go online without any parental supervision
o Nearly one in five (16%) of children have experienced mean or cruel behaviour online
And McAfee have issued a some top tips to help parents keeps their children safe online.
Speak regularly: Speak to your children regularly about the sites that they are using and keep an eye on security settings so you can make a judgement on whether the sites they are viewing are suitable. Research from McAfee and the Anti-Bullying Alliance found that over half of 14-15 year olds are hiding their online activity from their parents, with over a fifth actively deleting their browsing history. If the communication channels are open with your child, they are more likely to speak to you if things may be bothering them.
Educate early and often: As soon as your children start using the internet make sure that they understand about how to stay safe online – don’t accept friendship requests from people you don’t know, verify requests if they look to be coming from someone you do know, never agree to a private chat with a stranger and never post your mobile phone number or home address online for all to see.
Be password protected: It’s vital that your child understands the value of having secure passwords to any social media accounts that they may have set up. If they learn this discipline early, it will set them up for life! For example, never share your password with anyone (even their friends) and make sure it is something memorable to you, but not something someone could guess easily. Furthermore, encourage your children to change their passwords regularly to keep their accounts safe.
Communication: try and be open and approachable, that way your children will come to you if they have a problem. talk to your kids about how they use their computers and smartphones and ask about any concerns they might have. Be prepared to field any questions they may ask – there are plenty of online resources available to help support you in answering tough and delicate questions.
Block and report: don’t suffer in silence. Research from McAfee and the Anti-Bullying Alliance found that 34 per cent of 14-15 year olds had witnessed cruel behaviour online. If there is anything worrying your child, take measures to block these offenders from their accounts and report them if necessary. Furthermore, it is valuable to save the evidence; your instinct may be to encourage your child to delete upsetting comments, however make sure you save screenshots so you are able to report the culprit if this is necessary.