Quality Online Games for Kids

This week, I’ve been researching websites offering games for children. I was unhappy, though not surprised, to find that every one of Google’s top 10 sites for a search on ‘educational kids games’ features either advertising or a required login. It’s understandable that website owners want to see a profit when they make an effort to publish a free resource, but I question the ethics of advertising to small children.

Studies show that infants can visualize corporate logos and that by the age of three, the average American child can identify as many as 100 logos and is capable of developing brand loyalty. While this may be great news to a marketer, many parents feel differently. When research revealed that youngsters under the age of 8 cannot distinguish between the bias of advertising and a presentation of facts, many people began to think twice about the fairness of exposing children to commercial content.

Additionally, parents who want to protect their young children from developing an online identity should consider the wisdom of allowing their child to register his or her name and email in order to access free online games. These pieces of data will be entered into a database for the benefit of the site owner, not the benefit of your child.

Happily, my searching eventually turned up two sources for ad-free, registration-free online games for kids. I thought you’d like to know about these:

1. Starfall

The aim of the Starfall program is to promote confidence in children as they learn to read. This pleasant little website offers a nice selection of language-based games. Check out the Gingerbread Man game, where language cues ask your child to decorate a little cookie man with shapes. Montessori teachers and parents will especially appreciate the globally-conscious message behind the Earth Day game, which allows children to clean up a polluted stream by recycling paper, cans and plastic in the right bins.

I really loved the Learn to Read section, too. A stack of alphabet blocks appears on the screen, and when the child clicks one of the letters, a short cartoon featuring that letter and its spoken sound plays. The presentation is creative and entertaining and would certainly build a child’s confidence in learning to recognize and speak the ABCs. I believe you and your children will have fun exploring Starfall, and I want to give this group a round of applause for providing ad-free, registration-free learning games for all of us.

2. PBS Kids

In the games section of the PBS Kids’ website, children can make a snowman based on answering simple questions, just for fun. Older children will get a kick out of the choose-your-own-adventure style Cyberchase game. I found myself chasing a bunch of birds around trying to measure them, believe it or not, and I think children would enjoy following the plot and getting to interact with all the wacky creatures in this game. Good focus and reading skills are required. The PBS Kids site also features interactive music and coloring pages, as well as individual pages for favorite programs like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Reading Rainbow.

In the course of my search, I came across several articles from parenting magazines expressing a strong wish for more sites to provide a safe playing environment for kids. So far, our choices seem to be few, and I would really appreciate parents and teachers commenting if they can add further options to my list of approved game sites.

Computer skills are likely to form a necessary part of most kids’ lives as they grow, and may well form a vital part of their future work lives. If you’d like your child to learn about using computers, simple, fun games like these are a good option. Your child will improve gross and fine motor skills using the mouse and keyboard while enjoying playing an entertaining or educational game. As always, I do advocate consistent parental supervision during all child computer use. It’s too easy for the child to click off-site accidentally and wind up someplace inappropriate unless you are sitting nearby. Enjoy the computer with your child. It’s a great learning tool!