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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

A Rainy Day on the Web

Fun and educational websites for kids.

By Sarah Klein

You hoped to take the kids to the park but when you looked out the window this morning the lurking grey clouds had a different idea in mind. And after a long, cold winter trapped inside, your box of rainy (or snowy) day activities is wearing thin. You could always plop them down in front of the TV, but you fear the screen-time isn’t doing too much for their young brains.

When your collection of coloring books, puzzles, books, recipes, and craft projects runs out, turn instead to the world wide web! There are hundreds of educational, fun and family-friendly online destinations; many of them award winners. Here are a few suggestions:

Kids 3-8

If you have toddlers or pre-schoolers and want the fun to have some educational benefit, then head to Leading to Reading, a literacy-promoting site from Reading is Fundamental. Each month, the site features different stories that you can read with your child, as well as numerous reading-related activities to keep kids busy on their own. Kids are encouraged to interact with stories by coloring, singing, playing games, and reading along when they can. The site also has articles and advice for parents, as well as more in-depth activities that you can do alongside your child.

Another option is the recently redesigned website from the publishing powerhouse Scholastic, which won the 2008 Webby award for best youth site. Full of games and videos, the site also focuses on some of its most popular titles like Clifford the Big Red Dog and the Magic School Bus, which provide kids with monthly experiments and other fun science facts and activities. The site splits activities between kids 6 and under and kids aged 7+.

Visit The Online Mom’s Web Sites for Younger Children for a more comprehensive look at the selections for the 3-8 set.

Kids 9-12

As kids get a little older, they start to see the Internet as a place where they can interact with other kids – social networking is not just for teens and adults! The success of Club Penguin and Webkinz has spawned hundreds of imitators, some of which are linked to plush toys, some to video games, and some are just stand-alone sites. Check out The Online Mom’s page on social networking for tweens for some suggestions.

If you are looking for something with a little more educational value, then a great place to start is HowStuffWorks. Owned by the same parent company as the Discovery Channel, the site prides itself on explaining any topic in a way that everybody can understand, making it perfect for the curious minds of 9 to 12 year olds. With 15 separate sections, including animals, adventure, geography, history and science, kids can explore just about anything – from the top 5 mad geniuses of all time, to how an octopus camouflages itself, to how electricity works.

Introduce a more creative and imaginative tween to Tikatok, a site where kids can create their own books. With helpful story prompts, they can complete a book mostly on their own, and then share their work with friends and family through the site’s social networking activities. They can also read stories from other kids and leave comments for the books they enjoy. Joining is free, as is sharing and networking. You can upload images and even purchase a printed and bound version of the finished product for around $20.

Teens

Your teens are probably already spending quite a bit of time on the computer. Chances are they are into social networking, posting pictures and chatting with friends. It may be a little more difficult to convince them to find a family activity, especially if they have already established their Internet independence and identified their favorite sites.

MyFamily.com is one solution. Another 2008 Webby award nominee, the site is part blog, part social network, and part family tree. Give your teen free range in designing a page for your family, and then help fill in the branches. Once the framework is in place, you can use the site to stay in touch as they think about going off to college or moving away.

More toward the academic side is FreeRice.com. Sure, studying may never exactly be fun but this site at least makes the gloomy chore benefit a good cause! Suggest the site for your teen as he or she prepares for high school or college-entry exams. The site quizzes users on everything from vocabulary words to famous paintings, world capitals to foreign languages, and donates 10 grains of rice for every correct answer as part of the UN World Food Program. With 10 different skill levels, they’ll definitely learn something new. I studied French for 6 years and FreeRice just taught me that “éternuer” means to sneeze!

Of course there are endless online resources for every age group, so use these as a starting point. Always make sure to monitor the websites that your younger children are visiting, and don’t forget to mix in some off-line activities while the kids are home as well. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time a day. But making online activity guide part of your repertoire should at least help you get through those long rainy days!

Sarah Klein is a freelance writer for both print and online media living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been featured in Health.com, Sports Illustrated Kids, and Scholastic Classroom Magazines. To read more of her work, visit SarahKleinWrites.com.



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