There are two aspects that deserve consideration: a) choosing those applications that can complement their schooling, provide entertainment and facilitate communication and interaction with family and friends – and b) educating children on the opportunities and threats of the online world in general. While the former is being fulfilled by a sky-rocketing number of online startups, the latter identifies a potential shortfall of most existing school programs.
There are literally hundreds of secure experiences for kids online, the more popular being the fun-centric social games & virtual worlds like Disney’s Club Penguin. I personally tend to prefer those who cleverly combine entertainment with education or address communication and interaction in a useful way. My favorites follow:
Moshi Monsters by Mind Candy – A virtual world for children which does a fantastic job at combining fun, education and safety for kids age 3 to teens. Users adopt their own monster, decorate their home and acquire points (rox) by solving puzzles that cover a multitude of subjects (math, spelling, vocabulary, geography, history, visual recognition, hand-eye coordination, etc) across several learning stiles. Kids can also connect and exchange messages with their friends and everything is subject to parental supervision and approval. Has great potential to evolve into an online school or a collaboration platform for parents, students and teachers. Elected as best game ever by my own kids…
KIDO’Z – Based in Israel – arguably the most outstanding technology innovation center worldwide – KIDO’Z is a downloadable browser that gives kids from 3 to 7 years old a fun and secure web environment to independently watch videos, play games and visit approved websites – and parents the ability to manage content access, set usage levels and have piece of mind while their child is online. The platform is also due to include secure instant messaging and social networking tools in an upcoming release.
Vikido – Another young Israel-based startup, led by a talented founding-duo which includes a TechCrunch “femme-preneur to keep an eye on” (and unquestionable tech hottie). Vikido, currently in Beta, launched a web-to-mobile application that allows children from 3 to 9 to record and send voice and video messages to friends and family through an awesome toy-like web interface – which doesn’t require reading or writing skills. With a strong focus on safety (parents manage everything through an admin panel) – Vikido is a wonderful way to keep families in touch when work, location and other household structures create distance. At last, a perfect alternative to the controversial child-phones.
Our generation is technology-driven and that’s not going to change. According to Nielsen, the average ownership starting age for mobile telephony goes down every year (9.7 years old in 2009). The average 13-17 year old sends 2000 texts per month. Today, kids already represent 19% of social networkers worldwide. Education at an early age is therefore an obvious consideration – but it does trigger a few questions:
Why aren’t schools revamping their curriculums to leverage online tools? This can be as simple as using Google Earth to learn geography to something a bit more sophisticated like creating a secure virtual world/social network to assign and review homework, create after-school programs and encourage participation and collaboration among parents, students and teachers.
Why aren’t schools preparing their pupils for the online world? Cyber-bullying, stalking and internet addictions are constantly in the headlines. Not to mention the consequences a lack of online etiquette or content privacy knowledge can have on a child’s college application, internship or job interview. Parents clearly need to have a role, but most parents do not have that knowledge themselves.
Come on schools…