The times they are a-changin’.
I may not have had to walk 15 snow-steeped miles to school when I was kid (thank you southern California), but I certainly didn’t have access to the wide-open world of the Internet like youngsters do today. My parents, bless their souls, chose to forgo a high-speed connection in favor of the wonderful world of dial-up, limiting my Internet access to the obscure hours of the day when no one was likely to use the telephone. And while dial-up may have prevented me from the accessing a slew of online filth and kept me innocent longer than today’s youth, it would be naive to think aren’t worthwhile websites for kids—you just have to know where to look.
Responsible parents know vigilance is key when children are using the Internet to entertain and educate themselves. Thus, we’ve scoured the Web to find the most popular, fun, educational, productive—and safe—sites around. While it’s ultimately up to parents to individually decide what is and isn’t appropriate for their sprouts to see, if your kids are interested in sniffing around online, as a starting point they can’t go wrong with these age-appropriate online destinations.
Most adults no longer log onto Yahoo! every morning to get the latest news, check email, and generally warm up to daily Internet offerings, but your children can still use the Yahoo!’s Kids counterpart as a sort of Internet home base. It has a plethora of games of all kinds, music, movies, jokes, sports, horoscopes, e-cards, and even a StudyZone that has information on animals, reference materials (e.g. a world factbook, dictionary and encyclopedia) and more.
If you want to check up on your kids’ activities, go to the Parents section, which provides movie reviews for kids from a parent’s perspective, advice on online safety, and much more. Of course, the best feature of Yahoo! Kids is its child-friendly search engine, which only pulls up appropriate links. Your kids will find so much to do and learn on Yahoo! Kids that they won’t need to go anywhere else.
When I was a kid, it was always a special occasion when the yellow-framed National Geographic magazine would arrive in the mail, and my parents treated these tomes as reference material, earning a spot on the bookshelf just below the encyclopedias. Now, kids have online access to a lot of this same great educational material, which allows them to keep apprised of things happening around the world. Yes, there are the requisite games to keep kids interested, but the People and Places section, Animals, Activities, Stories and other educational links are where the good stuff is. This is a learning site up there with the best of them, and you’re kids won’t even know they’re boosting their IQ and taking a free trip around the while browsing it.
A hybrid educational/entertainment site, Funbrain disguises learning through fun, interactive games like Grammar Gorillas and Math Baseball. You’ll also find Web books and comics, like Diary of a Wimpy Kid (nominated for a Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Award) and Amelia Writes Again. Your tots can read blogs from children in their age group with similar interests, and the site links words to dictionary definitions for learning on the fly. Aids for teachers and parents, like homework supplements and quizzes, are also available. The site offers filter options so parents and other users can break the different types of content into age-appropriate sections for classroom and at-home use. If you want to build your child’s brainpower, albeit with a little gaming and nostalgia, send them to Funbrain.
There’s no denying that kids like Harry Potter. I remember reading the series religiously when I was in elementary school, each book release a perfectly suitable excuse to go on a reading bender through the night. Thus, it’s no surprise that author J.K. Rowling eventually took the franchise online given it’s mind-boggling success. Pottermore, an interactive website revolving around the seven books, provides fans with exclusive content, games and a variety of other interactive features that compliment each book. Users must sign up for a free account before they can access different aspects of the site, but the process is quick and asks very little in the way of personal information other than a name and birthday (which you can always lie about). Only the first two books in the series and the first 15 chapters of the third one are set up with interactive features, but the rest will follow in suite down the line. It may not be the most educational site on our list, but it’s a great way to entice your kids to read.
The days of having to go to the dentist office to snag the latest issue of Highlights are long gone. Now your kids can access all of the awesome hallmarks of the magazine online, complete with more than 50 Hidden Pictures pages to boot. The site isn’t the most comprehensive, but it does feature a wealth of educational and entertaining components to keep your kids engaged, including interactive stories, simple craft projects, healthy recipes and a history tidbit of the day. With a little help from a friend or parents, kids can also share their latest drawing or short piece of writing with the rest of the online community, adding a simple-yet-effective social element that works like an online refrigerator. The Ask Arizona advice column, another facet within the site’s “Read it” section, is a nice little section for handling some of the countless dilemmas kids are undoubtedly going to face on their road to maturity.
Jokes (“Why did the cow cross the road? To get to the udder side.”); boredom busters like arts and crafts projects; games; magic tricks; wacky facts; and more make up this universe of pure childish fun. While the site is largely entertainment-based, it does have some interesting educational stuff thrown in for good measure. Check out the Weird Science section to find fun experiments to do with your kids that teach them about physics, chemistry, biology, weather and more. There are also several kid-friendly recipes to get them involved in the kitchen. You can even search Funology’s content by age and type of activity to find content tailored to your child’s interests.
Whyville is also a social networking built from the ground up for tweens. The online world requires your child to manage money, eat properly and helps educate kids on online safety. A filter automatically removes and reports the use of foul language and sends red flags to site moderators for other words that may lead to inappropriate chatting. In fact, before kids can even participate, they must pass a test to get their “chat license.” It’s actually very difficult to pass. Kids can design their own personal avatar, earn “clams” by playing games, start their own business, write for the town newspaper and more. Whyville is a great and safe way to get your kid acclimated to online networking sites and teach them some basic Internet codes of behavior before they enter the big, bustling world of Facebook, Twitter and other social networking behemoths.
When it comes to teaching kids morals, nobody has has ever done it with such subtlety and imagination as Dr. Seuss. Ever since the 1950′s, his books have been teaching kids valuable lessons, such as the importance of environmental awareness in industrialized society (The Lorax), why racism is stupid (The Sneetches), and the psychological implications of holiday-motivated materialism (How the Grinch Stole Christmas). Lucky for us, Random House publishing has taken Seuss’s teachings to the web, and developed a wonderfully interactive site for kids to explore. With links to videos, games, and Seuss’ classic books, this site ranks among the best we’ve encountered for younger children.
Answering complex scientific questions in a simple, engaging, and child-friendly manner is a difficult feat to accomplish, but Lawrence Hall of Science has pulled it off. The kid’s section of the website offers up a myriad of simple and intriguing questions in an easy-to-navigate format. When your child finds something they’re interested in, clicking the link will send them to a brief explanation of the topic and suggest an activity where they can explore the question hands-on. In addition to experiments, games, and activities for younger kids, the site also has plenty of content that older, smarter kids can learn from. One of my personal favorites on the site is Bug Hunt! — an interactive activity that urges kids to get outside and search for a range of insects (i.e. ants, ladybugs, grasshoppers) and submit them to a Google Map so users can see what other players have found in their particular region.
How can you go wrong with a website from PBS? The award-winning online stopover features activities and games from your child’s favorite PBS shows, including guest appearances by Callou, Arthur, Curious George and Clifford the Big Red Dog. Kids can also discover music from their favorite TV shows and print off a host of hands-on material including coloring book pages, connect the dots sheets and even storybook sheets that feature black-and-white images with ample room for text. Although it is definitely tailored for a younger audience — it will likely bore your 13-year-old to tears — there is an admirable amount of online and offline activities for parents and teachers alike.
This list has been updated since its original publication to add websites.
What do you think of our list of the 10 best websites for kids? Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments below.