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In Search of Refreshing, Safe Web Sites

October 19, 2000|KAREN JONES | karen@kjnyc.com

The children's Web sites, Kids Domain and Funology, are not products of large media conglomerates or educational institutions. They are home-grown sites designed to bring their unique brand of edutainment to the Web. Both provide a safe online environment--though parental supervision is the only way to completely ensure appropriate Internet activity--and offer a creative mix of fun and learning.

Kids Domain at http://www.kidsdomain.com isn't just for children and that's a big plus for parents. By offering both an imaginative online playground for children and an information resource for parents, Kids Domain is truly family friendly. The site is designed simply for easy navigation. But don't let that fool you. It contains a potpourri of games, contests, crafts, educational material reviews, downloads, features, articles, links and more.

It is hard to believe that children could run out of things to do at Kids Domain. The online games section includes categories such as Brain Games, Funschool, Sports and Fall. It should be noted that all these titles are age-appropriate and any users looking for "Doom" or "Quake" will have to settle for the G-rated "Woggle."

The Brain Builders group includes Animals, Dinosaurs, Science, Math, Space, Ecology, World Music and Funschool. Clicking on any of these topics could provide links to downloads, reviews, clip art or games. There is also a popular Crafts section featuring seasonal, gift and holiday ideas.

Parents unsure of what software product to buy can utilize Kids Domain's regularly updated inventory of 1,200 software reviews and articles written "by parents, for parents."

Even better, there are nearly 2,000 freeware and shareware programs available for downloading. Parents can also read features and columns plus find information on issues such as Internet safety.

It is appropriate that the mascot of Funology.com at http://www.funology.com is a perky blue pooch named Presto, as he sets the tone for this bright and bouncy children's Web site. Funology.com was designed to provide kids with an entertaining experience online as well as to promote creative activities offline, which might be construed as a curious business model. Nevertheless, the formula works and on any given day, a visitor might take a pop quiz, play an arcade game or find a recipe for dinosaur eggs plus study instructions on how to make a paper airplane that really flies.

Funology.com features an eye-popping design but is still easily navigable throughout its seven main sections. The Brain Drains section offers quizzes, optical illusions, brain teasers and word searches. Clicking on That's Odd opens up a gaggle of "fun and funky" facts. For instance, a canary's heart beats 1,000 times per minute.

Tummy Ticklers features an array of age-appropriate jokes. Budding magicians will love Abracadabra, which shares the secrets of classic magic tricks, while In the Kitchen provides recipes for such potential crowd pleasers as Doodle Bug Ice Cream Critters and the Edible Aquarium, which consists of gummy fish, gelatin and water.

Things start to really heat up in The Laboratory where how-to experiments in physics, chemistry, biology and the weather, mix sedate selections like homemade greenhouses with more inspired choices such as Alka Seltzer rockets and volcanic eruptions. Paper towels are advised.

There is no e-commerce on Funology.com, but it does feature reviews of toys, games, puzzles and books in the Hot Stuff section. This is a site that understands how to promote creativity by providing the right mix of entertainment and learning.

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Karen Jones is a freelance writer specializing in children's educational and game software.

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