It’s sometimes difficult to work on my home computer before the kids are in bed. Naturally curious and eager to learn, I often have one or both kids on my knee as I do even the most mundane tasks. And of course, they want to help. For the safety of my files and my sanity, this is when I shut down the computer and play in their world for a while.
My oldest daughter enjoys websites featuring her favorite animated friends, all bookmarked in the browser for one-click access. As she gets older and tries to find out just how much she can get away with, our list of rules grows longer – not before bedtime; not without permission; no more than two hours; take a break; not when it’s sunny outside; because I said so. Her little sister doesn’t stand a chance.
Right now, she’s happy with her handful of parent-approved sites, but I know that won’t last long. She is already presenting me with website addresses from everything from cereal boxes to coloring books; anything starting with “www” is fair game. It is time for a little preemptive planning.
I’ve started off by creating her own user account on the computer. I put bookmarks to her favorite sites directly on the desktop, but I think it’s time to scrap that and prepare for when she wants to do her own browsing.
I don’t expect to be able to monitor my kids’ computer activity every second of the day. What I do plan on doing is switching the default search tool from Google to a more kid-friendly browser.
My first option is Quintura (www.quinturakids.com). This search engine lets you type in a search and then click your way through a word cloud and get G-rated results in return.
Type your search in the box and related topics appear in a cloud surrounding the original search term. Click any of those results to narrow the search, and on and on as desired. Meanwhile, the actual filtered-for-kids search results appear in the bottom half of the site, ready for clicking.
My other option is to install the KIDO’Z web environment (www.kidoz.net). It offers more than just a kid-friendly web browser. It also easily connects kids under 10 to what they’re most interested in, such as games, videos and websites. KIDO’Z is a specialized browser that serves up exactly those items, all within a safe, colorful, kid-friendly interface.
Because it is a stand-alone web interface, KIDO’Z requires Adobe Air to handle animated web content and videos, but you can get it for free here: http://get.adobe.com/air/. With that in place, it takes just a few clicks to install and create a free account.
Switching between the Games, Websites and Videos is done through the colorful TV interface. Pre-selected content is represented by a colorful interface with a recognizable thumbnail for those who aren’t strong readers yet. There’s also a Favorites button, so your kids can easily return to their preferred games and videos without having to search through all the pages again. The password-protected Parental Controls page lets you manage content, add new videos and websites, and block material you may find inappropriate.
It is a well-designed app that’s perfect for 3-7 year-olds, but 8 and 9 year-olds would enjoy KIDO’Z as well.
Another kid-safe web environment is KidZui (www.kidzui.com/). It is built for kids aged 3-12 and boasts over 2 million games, websites, videos and photos. It gives those kids with the “I want to do it myself” attitude an outlet to get it done without you having to worry. You won’t need to constantly watch over your kids’ shoulders when they are online because KidZui sends a weekly e-mail that tells you what your kids are doing online. The KidZui parent account lets you share content and set limits.
The only downside I’ve spotted is that, to unlock all of the features, you need to pay $8 per month, or $50 per year. This might seem steep, but there are enough free things to keep the kids busy for a long time before you’ll ever have to whip out your wallet.
What About E-mail?
Kid-safe e-mail exists out there, though it’s a little harder to find. AOL and Microsoft both offer the ability to create accounts for kids, but they are more of an add-on feature than a product built for kids.
ZooBuh (www.ZooBuh.com) is a web-based mail service designed expressly with young users in mind. It’s easy to set up, it offers better controls than AOL or Microsoft, and requires no extra software.
By default, your kids can receive mail only from users in the approved-contact list and can send mail only to those same approved users. Copies of incoming or outgoing messages can be sent to your e-mail address and images, links and attachments can be removed from received mail. ZooBuh’s bad-words filter also lets you add your own unwanted words.
ZooBuh’s interface is colorful and simple and has an Easy version for younger users.
ZooBuh isn’t free, but it is fairly inexpensive. The service charge is just $1 per month for each account. You also get to try it out for 30 days without having to give them your credit card.
I’ve yet to make my final choices, but I’m happy to see there are good choices available.