Website of the Month -Topmarks

A great site for discovering educational resources, although as the site does cover all school age groups it’s worth noting that the search function does return results that aren’t suitable for younger children, so if you aren’t using TwoTen with your children it’s advised you monitor usage.

Visit Topmarks

We found the Gingerbread Man Game peculiarly addictive. You have been warned…

Image search for kids (Peepus has)

It’s early days (we’ve got plans…) but Peepus now has an image search for kids on his site. It’s designed for use by younger children, using content sourced from a number of places in a way that means the images should be suitable for young
children. At the moment you need to enter words for the search but we’re developing ways that children who can’t write (or talk!) yet can also find pictures they want.There are other features in the pipeline too.

screen shot of image search for puppy

The search results can include both photos and cartoons, including ones suitable for colouring in and can be shared with other children. Some more information on the image search can be found here.

We’d love to get your feedback on it, whether via comments, tweets to Peepus or email.

Website of the Week – Monster High

Monster High’s popularity is showing no sign of abating, with lot of great new characters being released all the time. The Monster High website is a great one for fans of the dolls and films to visit. 

You can watch exclusive videos, meet the characters (including some really cool new ones), play games, create your own student profile and lots more. It’s safe and above all lots of fun, so why not check it out! 

This Week We Love: Funbrain

What it says on the tin: ‘Since 1997, kids, teachers, librarians, and parents have enthusiastically turned to Funbrain for its free educational games, online books, and comics. Funbrain, created for kids ages preschool through grade 8, offers more than 100 fun, interactive games that develop skills in math, reading, and literacy. Plus, kids can read a variety of popular books and comics on the site, including Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Amelia Writes Again, and Brewster Rocket.’ 

For preschoolers, there’s The Playground, which is packed full of simple fun games that help little ones get accustomed to using the mouse while learning and having fun. 

This particular alien game ‘Simon Sees’ involves clicking on the alien’s eyes to match his reflection. It’s simple and helps little ones master the mouse while laughing at the funny alien. 

There are some great maths games which tailor the games to the player, you select your level and it suggests games for you to play. There are also some great books and language learning games too. The site even offers access to the popular ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ books. It’s sure to be a hit with children of all ages.  

About the best child safe websites

I was asked to answer the question "What are the best child safe websites" over on Quibly. Answering it made me think a bit, so I decided to rework my answer for our blog. So, what are the best child safe websites?

That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer in a useful way (sorry!). The nature of our business means we come into contact with lots of great content, but it’s often mixed in with content not suitable for younger children ("family safe" is not a logical Internet concept…) so we often can’t just say "go to these sites" to people who don’t have TwoTen in operation. The obvious example here is YouTube; lots of great content for toddlers, rather more content that’s only suitable for older children and of course a fair bit that’s only suitable for older teenagers or adults.

Sites that focus on serving younger children with entirely free to use content, like Kideos, tend to become derelict because the original maintainers lose interest. To be fair "free to use" for this age group means it costs the operators money as well as time to maintain the site as they can’t (shouldn’t…) be gathering data they can sell, nor are they likely to do well with ads.

There are active sites out there which actively provide content of various types, and these sites are a mix of fun and educational (sometimes on the same site!). But all of the active ones we could mention that have stood the test of time like Moshi Monsters or Poisson Rouge, have one feature in common other than their focus on younger children; they charge in some way. A charge is inevitable because there’s no other way to sustainably fund the maintenance and development of these sites, to ensure they remain safe environments as well as continue to work on new browsers, adapt to changes in technology, add new content and to generally improve month on month.

Every time you encounter a rich, entertaining and educational site for younger children, ask yourself how is it making money? If it’s good it’ll have to make money somewhere because the costs of maintaining a site like that is non-trivial, even if the operators personally have the skills and time – running a popular site with lots of content will cost upwards of USD1000/month just in hosting fees. Once you add in developers, esafety staff, systems administrators… That’s a lot of money and it has to come from somewhere.

Sites that provide some sort of service free to use tend to use 2 ways to fund them; either they advertise or they harvest data about their users that they then sell on in some way. Apart from pesky legal restrictions in some countries, most parents would be uncomfortable with the idea that their child is being "harvested", which makes that monetisation route tricky. Then the value of ads on sites used by younger children will be difficult to "prove" to potential advertisers, because most web ads these days pay per click on the assumption the click was intentional – which is hard to believe with toddler visitors; and/or likely to result in a sale, even harder to believe. And of course many parents don’t want their child targeted with more ads either!

So charging in some way for sites targeting children is basically inevitable. Charges for web sites/services are likely to become more common generally, as awareness of the maxim "if ain’t the paying customer, you’re the product" becomes higher turns people away from the purely free to use. It’s just that there are less opportunities for indirect revenue with younger children so the issue has become apparent earlier.

So, back to the original question (finally!). We’ve decided to start letting you know about sites we come across that are suitable for the children who TwoTen serve – so your child can enjoy them before we’re ready to make the home product available.

Christmas websites for kids

Part of my job in Quality Assurance & Support involves checking websites for their suitability and grading them in terms of age appropriateness for children. It’s something I enjoy doing (you’re jealous, aren’t you!) and luckily I have two willing helpers in the form of my two children, my almost two year old son and 11 year old daughter. Lately we’ve been having lots of fun testing out some great Christmas websites. Here’s our favourites:

We love this site. Every year on the 1st of December the official countdown begins until the launch of Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve. 

On Christmas Eve itself you can track Santa on his way around the world, dropping off presents as he goes. 

If your little ones are too excited to sleep, it’s a great way to get them into bed. You simply show them Santa is on his way and tell them that Santa only delivers presents to good boys and girls who go straight to sleep – within minutes they’ll be tucked up in bed.

Suitable for children of all ages and great to watch together as a family, it’s become a real tradition in lots of houses around the world.

Not technically for kids, but rather a great website for parents to use to make a really special message for their children from the big man himself.  

This is such a wonderful way to bring the magic of Christmas alive for little ones. My 11 year old is a little too old to appreciate it now, however the little one absolutely loved his message from "Father Kissmaaaaasss" and was fascinated at how he knew his name. I even got my very own video message from Santa, courtesy of my daughter, which i was thrilled with – big kid that I am!

You can quickly and easily compile your own video message to your child. You simply select a few details like date of birth, gender, likes, have then been "naughty or nice", what presents they want and you can even add a photo to really bring the experience to life. Once completed you’re emailed a link to the video and you can watch it again and again.

It’s such a lovely, unique was to bring a little festive cheer to the children via the magic of the Internet and best of all, it’s free too!

This is a website we’d not come across as a family before and it’s a great for parents, teachers and children alike. Kids can write letters to Santa, print colouring pages, personalise Christmas stories, play games, find cool crafts to make and delicious recipes too.

At the top of the page is an interactive Christmas village, if you click on the houses and workshops you get taken to different parts of the website, Santa’s Workshop and Mrs Claus’s Kitchen for example.

There’s also a great Elf Blog featuring regularly updated crafts, recipes and much more. All in all this is a great website for adults and children to enjoy together.  

If you’re looking for inspiration this Christmas – maybe things to make and do with the kids, then take a look at our Christmas Ideas board on Pinterest for a little "pinspiration", there’s some great recipes and crafts for kids of all ages on there. 

Do you have a favourite Christmas website you enjoy visiting with the children? Or can you recommend some great Christmas ideas?