Anyone who’s been a regular reader over the last couple of years knows that I have no problem letting my children use the internet. They both have far too many Webkinz and know all the best places online to go play free games and like to consult Wikipedia when they feel the need to look something up.
I’m not anti-kid-computer-use, at all. I think it’s great that this generation of kids is growing up with a mouse in one hand. But I also think it’s very easy, as a parent, to forget that our kids need to be closely monitored while online, too. Please be smart about where your kids surf; check sites like Safe Internet Safe Kids and use parental controls on your computer. (Hey, most of this stuff is common sense. I’m just reiterating what you already know.)
That said, I’ll also say this: I think there’s lots of great sites out there for kids to enjoy which are absolutely free, so I’m generally skeptical about sites which require payment. But here are some pay-for-play sites that crossed my radar recently, so I’m going to give you the Toy Box Mommy Two Cents on ‘em. (My opinion is worth exactly what you pay for it, by the way.)
Scholastic StudyJams! is designed as a curriculum supplement for kids in grades three to six. It offers an array of media (games, quizzes, videos) on an assortment of topics, and my daughter couldn’t get enough of it when we recently explored it via free trial. It’s education made fun, and the target audience is ideal; old enough to truly “get it” but young enough to be tricked into learning. Would I pay $9.95/month for it…? I’ll plead the 5th, but my daughter would be thrilled if I did.
PBS KIDS PLAY! provides “interactive curriculum based learning activities for kids ages 3 to 6.” Do three-year-olds truly need a curriculum? I mean, I love PBS, and I’m sure the content here is great… but so’s the content on their free site. Not to mention that I have a hard time picturing this being so superior that I’d open my wallet because, goshdarnit, my three-year-old needs me to purchase content! I’m just sayin’.
And finally, I received a very enthusiastic press release yesterday about KidZui, a new browser purporting to be “the internet for kids” because it only allows surfing within its parent- and teacher-reviewed 500k+ sites. It makes surfing the internet “fun and easy for kids 3-12.” Yeah. Ummmm. What’s safe and easy for twelve-year-olds is not going to be safe and easy for three-year-olds. So I’m skeptical from the get-go, here, and not just because I fear that such a service will lull parents into thinking they needn’t monitor their kids’ internet activities. There is no such thing as a browser or service that keeps your kids safe online. You keep your kids safe online by keeping tabs on what they’re doing.
So should you be paying for content for your kids? I have no idea—that’s up to you. But wherever your kids are going online, I hope you’re keeping track.