Old Dog, New Tricks
Fire safety education meets fun at the new www.sparky.org.
NFPA Journal®, November/December 2009
NFPA’s Public Education Division has always stressed the importance of teaching kids fire safety using positive messaging, giving them a safe environment to learn about things that can be quite scary.
One of our main tools for reaching children is our website, www.sparky.org, which has been given a new, fresh look to make it even more functional. Kids have grown to recognize and trust Sparky the Fire Dog®, who’s been around since 1951, as do their parents, who grew up with Sparky and trust this iconic figure.
It is important to NFPA to provide a place where children can learn while having fun, and parents know that their children are on a safe website whose commercialism-free contents are held to the highest standard. NFPA staff scrutinizes and reviews the content of www.sparky.org for technical accuracy before anything is put on the site. Games are created with the combined purpose of teaching fire safety and giving the child a fun experience.
In all honesty, it can be hard to come up with new ways to challenge kids and teach fire safety at the same time. When deciding who would be best to update the site, we had a few important criteria. We wanted someone who understood NFPA’s educational standards and who understood children, their learning styles, and their ability to let their imaginations take over. We found all these qualities in Maine-based children’s illustrator Scott Nash and his team.
"We had three objectives to designing the site," said Nash. "The first was to create a dynamic site that would allow kids to explore a world, rather than click on pages. Learning through exploration and play is a key philosophy that drives much of the work we do. Our second objective was to create a site that was visually rich and diverse in order to attract younger and older kids to Sparky’s site. Finally, we strove to create a site that clearly reinforces the character of Sparky as a playful, friendly guide that interacts with kids as they explore."
Visitors can read about how Sparky became the fire dog he is today in an interactive storybook. They can also send e-cards, explore fire trucks, turn various animals into Dalmatians, download a safety checklist and coloring sheets, fold origami fire dogs, and much more. We’ve also added a parent section that features safety tips parents and educators can use to teach and reinforce fire safety.
And we’ve also developed a new interactive game, "Crack the Code," in which kids help Sparky solve a mystery by figuring out fire safety tips and ultimately putting the pieces together to decipher a secret code. To make the connection between what they learn in the game and real life, kids are challenged to print out and complete a safety checklist with their families to become part of Sparky’s Secret Safety Society. The checklist encourages parent-child interaction and gets the entire family involved in fire safety. Once they complete the checklist, they can get their own Secret Decoder Ring.
We’ve put a lot of time and resources into www.sparky.org. NFPA members can feel confident when recommending the site to friends, family, and colleagues that they will have a trusted and fun learning experience.
Amy Lebeau is communications manager for NFPA’s Public Education Division.