There are some great child friendly websites out there, suitable for toddlers and pre-schoolers. You can download pictures of favourite characters to colour in, play simple computer games, pick up recipes and other craft activities or even read a book online.
Some of our family favourites are the online homes of Maisy mouse, Bob the Builder and Angelina Ballerina. These all feature loads of different activities to entertain little ones and the sites are well-designed, imaginative and easy to navigate.
However they do all require a certain degree of dexterity and computer-savvy, in that they operate with a mouse (of the keyboard variety, as opposed to adored children’s story character). This necessarily precludes very young children from being able to use them. In our household, my youngest child has been keen to emulate his sister pretty much from the day he was born. So when he sees her using the computer, he doesn’t understand why he can’t follow suit. As you can imagine, frustrated toddler + expensive computer does not make for a pretty scene.
Then a programmer friend recommended we try Kneebouncers, which merrily bills itself as ‘a whole lot of fun for the itty bitty ones’. This brilliant site is so tot-friendly that my children now claim it as their own (as in, “Can we have our website on now Mummy?”). The nineteen animated games are designed to appeal to the very young – although my daughter still enjoyed it when she was 4 – with colourful, friendly cartoon characters. Best of all, the games are almost entirely operated via keyboard hits. Even a 9-month old baby could tap a keyboard randomly and would be rewarded with a cartoon rabbit or cat jumping up and down, bubbles bursting on screen or a train chuffing past with a cheery toot-toot. The more keyboard taps, the more screen action is produced, along with some rather fabulous sound effects. We love Bed-Bounce, Splish-Splash and Sea-Saw.
Probably my own personal favourite child-oriented site is the ingenious and utterly beautiful Bembo’s Zoo . The stunning book by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich is a visual delight in itself but this website really brings his ideas to life. Animals created entirely out of letters of the alphabet leap across the screen or roar convincingly at you before breaking down again into their constituent letters. Simply click on a capital letter from the alphabet gallery and watch that letter zoom out to produce a word, (eg. M becomes Monkey, K = Koala). The letters then jumble themselves across the screen and reassemble as the animal in question. A simple idea but quite brilliant in its execution – and fascinating to watch.
It also makes a good springboard for word games (or creating letter animals of your own) and is a playful way of learning spelling. So you could argue that it has educational value too. After all, they say children learn best when they’re having fun.