I am not one of those parents who feels my kid would be better off not having access to the Internet; in fact, my seven-year-old has been playing on the computer since he mastered the fine art of keeping his head up and could safely balance herself on my lap. I’ve always considered it a better alternative to the passive act of simply sitting on a couch and watching television.
With the proper parental controls in place, having the Internet at your child’s fingertips is a major help, especially when he’s researching information for school reports. The Internet can take your kids to different places â€” even if it’s just virtually â€” in a very intimate way.
But like every other technological breakthrough that holds the promise of greatness, there is always a dark side that we parents need to heed. (Don’t get me started on those unregulated pornography sites that can so easily be accessed by children.)
But, if you know the right sites to visit, you can pop your toddler on your lap, or pull up two chairs in front of your monitor and explore the universe, brush up on your math skills or play a two-player video game, all from the comfort of your ergonomically configured desk and chairs.
Here are some of my favorite Web sites to get you and your child started on your cyberspace journey.
Hands down, this is the best starting point on the Web for kids new to the computer. They’ll be fascinated by the fact that they can interact with some of their favorite television characters.
Age appeal: Three to 5 years old. (You may think 3 years old is way too young for a child to understand how to manipulate a computer mouse. Trust me, after watching you do it several times, she’ll be clicking away.)
What kids will go gaga for: Games such as “Peek-a-Boo with Teletubbies,” “Clean Up with Barney,” “Spelling with Caillou” and “Color Me Hungry with Cookie Monster.”
Parent perks: Being a part of your child’s learning process, unabashedly breaking into a sing-a-long and online coloring. (No mess!)
Honorable mention: Up to ten (www.uptoten.com/kids/uptoten-home.html). With 891 FREE games, you and your little one will keep pretty busy in its Silly Song section, and with its animated storybooks.
If your child is anything like my seven-year-old, he’s probably hooked on www.nickjr.com and has at least one Webkinz virtual pet (if not, check out www.webkinz.com to get all the information). An alternative, Funology.com is anything but boring. It’s a hands-on science, math and art history site that is definitely worth checking out.
Age appeal: Six to 8 years old.
What kids will go gaga for: Boredom-buster activities like: constructing their very own dinosaur eggs or a lightning bug catcher. Online games such as “Alien Bounce” or “Robot Chaser”; science experiments and magic tricks that will teach them how to make a coin move on its own, freaky optical online illusions, and creepy facts that will make kids’ jaws drop.
Parent perks: Hours of online brain-teasing games and off-line crafty projects that incorporate science, spelling and lots of math. You may never leave the house again! Funology.com
Cool Math for Kids, www.coolmath4kids.com: Check out math games, and Spike’s game zone. After playing on this site, kids will actually begin to enjoy math!
National Gallery of Art, www.nga.gov/kids: Here your child can create, paint and draw virtual masterpieces with the Art Zone tool and tour museum exhibits.
The ASPCA, www.aspca.org: Here kids can get all the facts about their pooches and play interactive games.
MY Favorite tween website KidzVuz.com is a totally safe video review sharing site for kids age 7-12. It’s the ONLY online destination exclusively dedicated to letting tweens have their say and share their views about the stuff they love.
What kids will go gaga for: Being on KidzVuz is like hanging out with a bunch of friends who like to talk about the same things you do. Which games are best, what shows to watch, when you should spend your own moneyâ€¦and when you are completely obsessed with something (or someone!) When you join KidzVuz, you become part of a community of tweens just like you: kids who want to be heard.
Parent perks: KidzVuz is a safe place where you’ll never be required to leave any personal information. It’s a site for kids who want to share their opinions and hear what other tweens have to say – without grown-ups telling them what they’re supposed to think.
Overall: On KidzVuz, every time you leave a review, rate a product or review, or answer a survey, you’ll earn points towards cool badges for your own reviews. The more you participate, the cooler the badge you’ll earn. You can also see where you stand against other members on our leaderboard. Who’ll get the most points?
Designed by American librarians, this Web search engine features links to tons of age-appropriate content. It can double as a resource for homework research and a place to learn about wacky experiments and brain-teasing facts.
Age appeal: Nine to 12 years old.
What kids will go gaga for: Finding other fun Web sites that will teach them about recipes for bizarre stuff they can whip up in the kitchen (www.bizarrelabs.com) or the mysteries beyond planet Earth (www.exhibits.pacsci.org/aliens/welcome2.html) where they can virtually operate a replica of the Mars Pathfinder over a Martian landscape, see how much they’d weigh on other planets or look through a telescope at a star field and see a real piece of a Martian meteorite.
Parent perks: You can take this opportunity to learn with your child, and make new discoveries about simple things such as: everything you want to know about balloons, including history, how they are made, balloon sculpture and science at www.balloonhq.com, or even check out some of the parenting sites where you’ll get tips on Museums & Learning: A Guide for Family Visits at www.ed.gov/pubs/museum.
Ask Jeeves (www.askforkids.com) where kids can get the answers to all their burning questions.
Homework Spot (www.homeworkspot.com) which has well-chosen sites that are arranged by grade level and subject matter.
Since researching this my kids have asked Jeeves at least 30 questions and gone grocery shopping with Cookie Monster.