You've probably scaled back your children's screen time this summer, and we applaud your efforts to encourage kids to put down their tablets in favor of outdoor play. Still, when youngsters are allowed online, there is no reason their Internet activities can't be educational as well as entertaining.
Kimberly Probert Grad, a senior librarian and children's specialist with the Brooklyn Public Library, is the 2012 co-chairwoman of the American Library Association's Great Websites for Kids committee. The group evaluates websites using established selection criteria, reviewing all the sites in the database twice a year to ensure they remain relevant, accessible and appropriate for children up to age 14. Sites are chosen, she says, "because we believe they have the potential to enrich a child's experience and help them expand their imaginations."
For parents and caregivers who want to prevent the dreaded "summer slide," which can occur when kids are not engaged in reading and academic enrichment, Probert Grad suggests a healthy balance of outdoor play and indoor enrichment. "Kids today are going to be exposed to technology in ways we weren't," she says, "and the whole way of finding information has changed."
Rob Townsend, a high school science and social science teacher at a National Education Association Priority School in Clinton Township, Mich., said that sorting through the plethora of websites for children can be vexing for parents and educators. "But over the summer, if you can spend just five minutes a day with your child looking at an educational website, watching a video, reading a book or asking them math questions, they are learning and using what they are learning," Townsend says.
The ALA's Great Websites for Kids website (gws.ala.org) is a terrific starting point. Here are a few recommended by the experts, as well as some that struck our fancy:
Brightstorm.com: Townsend says this website, which features instructional videos, will enhance math and science skills for elementary- and high school-age children, as well as improving test preparation skills.
Studystack.com: Townsend appreciates that the user creates the content. For example, parents can craft virtual flashcards to hone multiplication factor skills or create educational and fun word search and hangman games and even crossword puzzles.
Dsokids.com: Probert Grad is enthusiastic about this interactive website affiliated with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, which provides music education, including the history of famous composers, through lively games and activities.
Generationon.org: This website was recently featured as the ALA's site of the month, and with good reason. On this altruistic website sponsored by the GenerationOn Youth Advisory Council, teens and tweens will discover ideas for fulfilling service requirements and "the inspiration to change the world around you." Other highlights include a search feature to help kids secure a volunteer position, blogs brimming with personal stories and plenty of project tips.
Poptropica.com: The mastermind behind this delightful website is Jeff Kinney, author of the "Wimpy Kid" series. This virtual world engages younger children with games that allow them to create a character and embark on age-appropriate quests to more than a dozen "islands," weaving themes from history, nature and human culture.
Scratch.mit.edu: This website, developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, is wildly popular with kids and adults, who can create and share their own interactive stories, games, music and art.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun