There’s a market for kid-friendly online browsing. Children watch their parents on computers and want to get in on the fun from an early age, even if they don’t quite know how. Although there are a number of kid computers (VTech, Fisher-Price, etc.), these low-end devices don’t offer the same breadth of options available on the Internet. Kids don’t want one brand of entertainment; they want many. Enter software-based solutions. Earlier in the year I talked about Kidthing, which showed up at CES. Now I’ve had a chance to play with Zoodles as well. Here’s my take on the kid-friendly browser launched last April.
What it Does
Go to Zoodles.com, and you can download the application (Adobe Air, Mac or PC) for free. Zoodles will ask you a few questions about your child to establish content parameters, and will then load the program on your computer with a Zoodles desktop icon. (Yes, you can set up profiles for multiple children.) Launch the application and you open up your child’s “toybox.” The toybox has big friendly picture buttons linking to different games, and big arrows on the right and left so you can scroll through multiple screens. The games listed come from all over the Web, with sites represented ranging from Scholastic to Playhouse Disney. More content is added on a regular basis.
The biggest benefit to Zoodles is that it aggregates a tremendous number of age-appropriate games in one place. Unlike Kidthing, all of the content is free, and I haven’t found any games that require a separate download. There’s also the advantage that the browser mixes non-branded games with commercial characters that kids (for better or worse) already know. Nothing beats the appeal of Dora or Kai-lan.
Safety-wise, Zoodles only allows kids to click through on approved URLs. That means that if there’s an ad placed next to a game, your child won’t be able to click on it and move over to another site.
A premium membership to Zoodles ($5.95/month or less) also adds in a parental dashboard feature. Although I’d be hard-pressed to sign up for another monthly subscription service, the dashboard offers a tremendous amount of control over the application. You can look at reports on what your child has played, block specific sites, games, or shows, and even promote certain skill sets (have certain types of games show up more often) that you want your child to work on. Subjects include language and literacy, life skills, math, science, and social science.
There’s very little negative to say about Zoodles. I found it ran a bit slowly, but whether that’s the application or my netbook is hard to say. I spoke to CEO and co-founder Mark Williamson, and he suggested that part of the goal of Zoodles is to get kids able to play by themselves on a computer without constantly needing help or supervision. Sounds good, but I still found there were plenty of places where it was possible to get stuck without parental intervention. Again, this isn’t really the fault of Zoodles. Some games just don’t make it clear what to do next, or make it difficult to start over.
I will definitely keep using Zoodles with my almost-4-year-old. Like being on the kids’ computers at our local library, Zoodles makes it easy to find games that my daughter likes and learns from. If online safety is a big concern for you (the FCC has a new report out on the issue), Zoodles is also a great alternative to relying on filtering software. Older kids need a different solution, but for children aged 3 to 8, the free Zoodles app is the way to go.
Click to enlarge: