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The single most important site that we used to help our kids learn to read was starfall.com - far and away the best. In 3-6 months they were reading everything they saw and they loved the fun on starfall.com.

If you need help getting your kids comfortable with online tools or just need suggestions for something new, the below information may be helpful to you.

Getting Kids On-Line for Fun and Education (Infants to Kindergarten)

With both parents being computer consultants, it was natural for our children to be interested in computers at a very early age. Both of our girls were proficient with the mouse and able to get around the computer on their own by the time they were 2 or 3. These results may not be typical, but I thought I would share what we have learned along the way as well as some of the sites that we used to teach our kids the skills they needed to play on-line games and some of our kids' favorite sites and games.

I have these steps listed by age, but if your toddler or preschooler is only just starting to use the computer I would start at the top of the list with infants and progress down - they will likely go through the early games quickly, but the cause and effect knowledge gained from the early games is very helpful in the later kindergarten and other games. For older beginners, I also have it broken down by ability - keyboard users, mouse clickers, and drag & droppers.

I really recommend you check these sites out ahead of time yourself and that you try some of the games yourself first, so that you can "choreograph" your child's computer adventure. It is frustrating for mom and baby when nobody knows what to do - and once the child is in your lap, they want to DO and won't wait for you to figure it out.

I would also personally recommend using the 1/2 hour before lunch to do this kind of thing and end with something to drink or a cracker or something to avoid the "I don't want to go" tears. While your child might be different than mine, I found it was easy to distract a hungry baby with food away from this great big new toy.

**WARNING: Remember, the web is a wide and wonderful world.
For your child's (and your computer's) protection you will want to set your
security settings so that your child gets only the kid friendly content that you
intend and doesn't install adware from a pop up.**

If you prefer computer games that do not require an internet connection, scroll to the bottom for some of my children's software recommendations.

Infants (keyboard users)
Infants and new users need games that work when they bang anywhere on the keyboard - some companies call these games "lapware". You may wonder about allowing your child to bang or even kick the keyboard - I can tell you that I allowed it without any trouble at all, although of course temper banging is never allowed. At this tender age, they would kick it and pound at it out of excitement and experimenting and I have never had to replace a keyboard because of it. The best Lapware games I have found are:

Peek-A-Boo Elmo / Big Bird / Zoe from Sesame Street
Elmo's Keyboard-a-Rama from Sesame Street.

Fisher Price online games for Infants - there are several games here, for several skill levels. The Infant games are keyboard lapware games - coloring, shapes & colors, abc's, peek-a-boo games

I like Elmo's Keyboard-a-Rama particularly because Elmo does a different thing for each letter and number on the keyboard. With your help (or maybe even without your help!), your child can learn the keyboard and be encouraged to find all the letter in and numbers in order - or reverse order even.

When you and your child get bored with these sites, move on to the next level or check out More Site Suggestions below to find more games to play or you can search any engine for 'free online infant games'.

Toddlers (mouse clickers)
Toddlers and more experienced users have seen you use the mouse and are anxious to control the computer experience a bit more, though their hands are still a bit small to actually use the mouse properly, let alone "drag and drop". At first, they learn that pushing the button makes things go, but the coordination to move it and click will come in time and with practice.

Using a lap board or book to bring the mouse closer to the child, I was able to do the clicking at first and let my child see that it makes something happen, then I'd move and hold the mouse steady, then let her be the one that pushes the button. It is very helpful to have a lap board or book while your child gets used to the mouse, particularly if he has a far or awkward reach to the mouse and pad.

These games will require some mouse skill, but only enough to understand that pushing the button makes something happen and small slow motions will do for a lot of the action.

Fisher Price online games for Toddlers - When you click the Toddler tab there are more games for this new skill level.
Learn to Read with Phonics - from Starfall.com - the very best and a big favorite for many years.Shows as a Kindergarten game on the site (and many of the games that are on that site are) but my 2 year old is loves it
Little Einsteins - Playhouse Disney's hit show has great games about music and art that use mostly clicking ability (no dragging and dropping) - my kids LOVE this one, but you can access all the Disney fun from here.
PBSkids.org - The PBS shows come to life with gentle games that this skill level can handle, with fun sounds and familiar characters, like Calliou. My kids also enjoyed the BBC kids shows, even if they didn't know the characters from TV.
Sesame Street is always a winner with me, but the skill levels vary from game to game. In the games section you may see a section marked Toddler Games - these work well for this skill range.

When you and your child get bored with these sites, move on to the next level or check out More Site Suggestions below to find more games to play or you can search any engine for 'free online toddler games'.

Pre-School (drag & droppers)
Once your child is capable with the mouse, the next skills he will need to know is dragging and dropping objects on the screen and double clicking. I don't worry about "double clicking" yet - instead I teach the kids to click on the object they want and then hit the Enter key on the keyboard.

Dragging and dropping they pick up pretty quickly when they are bored with their old sites and they have to learn the new skill to play the new game - so you will want to move on to games that challenge them more. You will also want to show them these basics:

Click on the x in the upper right hand corner to close a window (the only way to safely close a pop-up, by the way)

Make the window full screen with the square next to that x in the upper right hand corner

Armed with that information and Mother approved icons on the desktop, Jr. will be able to happily direct his own computer play and learn so much in the process!

**Remember to create shortcuts to your child's favorite sites and put them on your desktop so they can get there themselves. To do this, you can highlight the full address line in your browser (while you are looking at the site you want a shortcut to) and then click and drag it to your desktop.**

Here are some of our favorite sites for Pre-Schoolers:
Fisher Price online games for Toddlers - When you click the Preschool tab there are more games for this new skill level.
You can't go wrong with Sesame Street for Pre-Schoolers in my book and this site is FULL of a whole variety of games that teach sorting, counting, spanish words and so much more. At this level of ability your child will be thrilled to go through the whole assortment at his own pace
Jakers - The charming PBS series comes to life and has great games, including this puzzle game that requires lots of draggin and dropping. Now housed under another organization, these games are still lots of fun and some quite challenging.
Barney - The big purple dinosaur has his own site, full of songs and seasonal games.

When you and your child get bored with these sites, move on to the next level or check out More Site Suggestions below to find more games to play or you can search any engine for 'free online pre school games'.

Kindergarten
Once my oldest was Kindergarten age, I found that she was more challenged (and interested in) sites and games that develop her reading abilities. I also think that due to the change in schedule that school can be, and their TV or entertainment habits shift, kids of this range maybe moving from JoJo's Circus to Kim Possible. Remember that virtually anything that your child is interested in there is information and quite likely games available to help stimulate and educate that interest, so search the web and see what you can come up with.

Here is what we have so far:
Starfall.com - Dedicated to teaching children to read (clear winner in my house for a long time). My kids were both reading by 4 years old and I largely credit this site for that happy fact.
Between the Lions - based on the PBS series that teaches kids to read
Disney Channel - Featuring Phil of the Future, That's So Raven and Kim Possible, it seems the next logical step when Sesame Street & JoJo's Circus are no longer their favorite shows
Seussville - Featuring characters and stories by Dr. Seuss this site is almost more fun for me than my kids, but it does help them develop sentence structure and such. It might be for slightly older children or real Seuss fans
Gamesquarium - ages Pre-K to 6+. This site links to various sites (like Starfall.com and even FisherPrice.com) so this is a great resource for new games. Though you will find some "not so good ones" included here, there are enough good ones for me to include it.

When you and your child get bored with these sites, check out More Site Suggestions below to find more games to play or you can search any engine for 'free online kindergarten games'.

More Site Suggestions:
By now we know a LOT of kids sites. I list some here and how we found them, because directing your child's computer usage to fit his interests is, of course, the best way to get them to learn. You will find games for every level of ability at these sites, you just need to take the time to check them out ahead of time, until your child is able to fully control his computer experience.

PBSKids.org, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. & Playhouse Disney - Because these games are all about characters your child may be familiar with, it engages them to participate and want to learn what you are doing that makes the action happen.

You will sometimes find that particular TV shows or movies have their own sites with even more games, like The Wiggles, Barney, Doodlebops and Bob the Builder.

There are sites that you can join to get great lessons for kids, like BrainPop and BrainPopJr - and excellent way to start science info or to round out a homeschooling curriculum.

There are also new sites coming out all the time, like PetPetPark (a nickelodeon venture) that kids can spend weeks getting to know.

You can search for your child's favorite show or even favorite toy in most search engines (my personal favorite is Yahoo.com). We have come up with sites dedicated to Care Bears, Barbie, Polly Pocket, My Little Pony, Lego, Hot Wheels, Strawberry Shortcake - the list goes on and on. Half the time, all you need to do is type www.YOURFAVCHARACTERHERE.com to find just what you are looking for.

Some of the toy companies have sites that feature games associated with their products, like Hasbro's Candy Land board game, Play Doh or Littlest Pet Shops.

As kids get older, they enjoy more complicated and interactive sites. Two popular sites are Animal Jam from National Geographic Kids and Pet Pet Park from Nickelodeon. These games allow kids to log on to a safe, fun, kid friendly environment while limiting the kind of content they can share. Pet Pet Park, for example, won't allow kids to type in numbers - there by making it impossible to give address or phone number. A great way for kids to develop typing skills and make friends on-line, thereby enriching the game experience.

Software suggestions:
Software does not usually require an internet connection and so there is no danger of your child finding inappropriate content or download malicious software by accident. Here are some of the titles and characters that where a hit with us:

  • Miss Spider's Tea Party (several different games, from matching, to finding, a maze, a race - really pretty too!)
  • Anything Care Bears (Care-a-lot Jamboree has great skills games that help mouse usage and coordination - plus the run even without the CD inserted)
  • Playskool's Kindergarten CD Rom
  • My Little Pony CD Rom
  • DK Interactive titles (My first CD-rom Toddler & My first CD-rom Preschool)
  • Anything Curious George (Learning Games & Learning Phonics)
  • Winnie the Pooh's CD Roms "Learn to Read
  • Candy Land Adventures CD Rom (you get to interact in all the different areas of Candy Land - fun!)
  • Rolie Polie Ollie CD Rom "The Search for Spot" - this one we got as a gift at an early age, and while Iris was too young for it, she really enjoyed watching us go through the activities for her. It's a good way to whet their appetite for the future. It took her years to master it herself - the sign of a good game...she kept trying!

Some of these are not available any more and it is hard for me to keep up with kiddie software for younger than my own kids, at this time. I include these just to give you ideas.

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