My first experience with a computer was playing the Oregon Trail in elementary school in the computer lab. I remember dying of dysentery and running out of supplies. I’d go back after school to click and clack out a chicken pecked story on those big, bubble, colorful Apple Computers.
Computers in our home life, however, simply didn’t exist. I didn’t have an email address until I was nearly out of high school, and our family bought our very first home computer – just one for all six of us, right before I was heading to college. I remember our parents shouting at us to get off of the Internet so they could make a phone call.
Obviously, that’s no longer the case. If you’re reading this you’re probably even guilty of letting your two-year-old play an educational app in the grocery cart at the store. When you make the jump from that, to introduce them to the Internet, though, is a line that can be a little fuzzy and be intimidating. I have always been very conservative until the kids started school. I was shocked that my Kindergarten was using the computer and iPad daily, and pretty soon was as comfortable as I am navigating them. This last year for 3rd grade Amber was assigned her own iPad, and most of her books were on it. I quickly was introduced to how many amazing tools there really are online for kids, and have since allowed them to be on the computer quite a bit more at home.
Of course, like everything in parenting, this is going to vary wildly depending on your family and your child. Today I’m just sharing what works for us, in hopes that it might help you decide what works for you!
Get The Right Tools
Old Computer The next time your laptop gets sluggish and you upgrade hang on to that out of date one. The last thing you want is for your six-year-old to “accidentally” anything on your $4,000 MacBook. Having an older, slower laptop for your little to bang away at will make everyone a lot happier. The same goes for old phones! Before you deactivate that old phone download all the free games and educational apps you can find. Even without cell service, it works amazingly well for keeping kids entertained during Dr. Office waits!
Ad Blocking Software Once you get the hardware you’re going to want to get the ideal set-up. I highly recommend installing an ad blocker on your computer and your phones. While I always allow ads on sites like blogs or Youtube that the content creators depend on that income when it comes to your child’s computer you want as little “stray links” for clicking as possible.
Antivirus Protection The next thing you’re going to want to invest in is a good AntiVirus App for your phone and software for your computer. As I just mentioned, you’ll have those weird links to a minimum, but you still can’t be positive they won’t end up somewhere weird. Making sure you have great protection is a must! Especially with PC and for Android Security.
Parental Blocking Software There are lots of great options out there when it comes to monitoring or blocking software. These can make sure your child stays away from those really sketchy sites. To be honest I don’t have this for us yet. Amber and Tyler are 9 and 6 and haven’t used the computers without our direct supervision yet. I figure once they are closer to teens and we give them a little more leeway I’ll start researching these more in depth.
Use The Right Sites
Now that you’ve got everything “kid ready” it’s time to discover the right places to send them online! Here are my very favorite FREE, fun, educational, and kid friendly!
PBSKids.org – If you have little kids you are surely big fans of PBS Kids already. Their website is equally great with games that are educational and fun and feature all your kid’s favorite characters
DisneyJr.com – Same as above, lots of fun with your kid’s favorite show characters. This one is a lot like the tv channels are to each other with Disney being educational but more on the line of fun and not so educationally based.
Prodigy – We discovered this free math game this year through Amber’s school. It starts out at 1st grade but Tyler wanted to do it so bad after watching Amber that I signed him up and he’s been able to do the work with a little bit of help. The kids absolutely love this site and beg to play it—even with the math snuck in!
ChessKids – I found out about this website when Amber participated in Chess Puzzle this past year. It teaches kids how to play chess through fun videos and they can solve puzzles or play against other kids.
ABCMouse.com — I’ve heard amazing things about this site for years, but we have just started playing on it this summer. I’ll be bringing you our full review of it soon!
Yepi – This is another site that I found out about from Amber’s school. It has a ton of free games to play online. I will mention that these are NOT educational and I would CAREFULLY screen them before your children start playing them. Tyler found some Zombie/Ghost games (like Plants VS. Zombies) before I realized they were there and while they really are harmless they did scare him. So I recommend this with those disclosures.
Your Local Library Website – Many libraries’ have sections online dedicated to fun games!
Hopefully, these tips will give you a great starting point for your family! If you have any tips or know about any amazing websites I’m missing out on please let me know! I’m always looking for more amazing tools to use!