JOPLIN, Mo. —
There was no such thing as the Internet when I was a kid, at least not as we know it today. We didn't have social media, online gaming or YouTube. Research happened with encyclopedias in libraries.
Part of this makes me feel old, but the other part makes me feel very modern. Here we are with the world at our fingertips and in our smartphones. But do we really want our kids to have the entire world at their fingertips just yet? With so many questionable places to visit online, it can be tricky to know where to begin when our littlest kids start showing an interest in the Internet.
Websites need to be both age-appropriate and trustworthy for preschoolers and early grade-schoolers. They need to be easily navigable and entertaining enough to hold attention.
To remove some of the guesswork from finding appropriately kid-friendly sites, here are some of our family's favorite websites for kids. Give them a try. They just might become the building blocks of your children's Internet savvy.
PBSKids.org: One of our earliest and favorite Internet stopovers, PBS Kids is a fantastic source of independent entertainment.
The icons and options are easy enough for our 4-year-old to navigate and engaging enough for early elementary-aged kids. The games and videos all coincide with the channel's cartoon lineup, meaning nothing is without an educational purpose.
Starfall.com: This reading website was first suggested to us by our preschool teacher. It's filled with phonics games and stories. The simple layout and graphics keep kids from becoming sidetracked, while the lure of silliness keeps them absorbed.
Appropriate for alphabet learners all the way up to early readers, Starfall is an excellent resource for parents hoping to get their kids excited about learning to read.
Kids.NationalGeographic.com: Our oldest child has a growing love of science and nature, and we've been looking for new ways to keep her excitement fresh. National Geographic's website for kids is packed with information, photos, videos and games that stimulate her imagination and desire to know more.
It introduces new topics and opens her world up beyond that of our backyard. This educational site is not to be missed for middle to older elementary-aged kids.
Seussville.com: Dr. Seuss has managed to remain relevant and beloved for decades. For a new generation, his work has found an online home.
At Seussville, kids can play games with Horton, the Lorax or the Grinch. They can color with The Cat in the Hat and explore Whoville. They can watch classic Seuss video clips and find their next favorite book to check out at the library.
Seussville is familiar, silly and wacky -- everything we want in a fun kids' website.
StorylineOnline.net: When I start to worry that my kids are watching too many pointless cartoons but I still want them to have some Internet time, Storyline Online is our favorite stop.
Here, award-winning children's books are read out loud by members of the Screen Actors Guild. It has the feel of a library story time hosted by a celebrity librarian.
Because books are good for a child's soul -- even if they're read by strangers trapped in the computer screen -- you won't be sorry you've got this website on your favorites list.
Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife. blogspot.com.