A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this website.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that w3kids.com is a basic-skills practice site for younger elementary age kids with a balanced variety of activities that will continue to challenge as kids get a bit older. The trial for the site runs out quickly, but subscriptions are reasonably priced. Language on w3kids isn't always precise, and reading levels and controls are sometimes too tricky for younger kids. But the overall feel is light, fun, and informative. Parents will want to look over the site first to get a sense of whether it's a good fit for the needs of their kids and whether they're willing to register their family for an account.
What's it about?
W3KIDS.COM lets kids choose from featured items and topics that are floating around the main page or from the side slide-out menus. There's a good variety and depth of stuff to do, including items such as counting and calculation, language arts, nearly endless puzzles, and a drawing board that saves work. The site also covers topics such as animals, insects, vegetables, and vehicles. Content can be studied through audio clips and photos, with long single paragraphs that are set at a second-grade reading level. Following the text are optional multiple-choice quizzes. The parent section offers some common-sense developmental concepts and ideas organized by age and topic.
Is it any good?
The two best things about w3kids.com are the choices it gives kids and the multiple ways it helps to reinforce learning. For example, in the math area, it's awesome that kids can decide whether to use multiple choice or direct entry. The option to see the answer instead of just getting it wrong (what if they can't remember how many legs a crab has?) -- that's what learning is all about. The same can be said for puzzles; whereas four puzzle pieces are just the right amount for most younger kids, there might be some spatially talented kids who would be psyched for the challenge of 16. The way that the word-recognition activities reinforce topic areas by using the same content is simply genius.
The single worst thing about w3kids.com is the age mismatch between usability and content: Most content is geared toward the range of kindergarten to second-grade kids, but usability is often more in the second to third grade zone. It's not quite as intuitive and sophisticated as it needs to be for the youngest kids to make the best use of the site on their own. One example is that in the Practice Numbers activity, the target numbers and radio buttons are relatively small, so it's not totally clear for emerging learners to figure out exactly what they're supposed to do. Also, reading level is often too high for little ones, which can add to confusion. Additionally, the website appears to be in a beta phase, and its strange presentation frequently confirms this "under development" status. Text doesn't always fit on menu bars, some sections are missing content, and images don't always layout cleanly. Plus, kids can choose to see the whole puzzle image but can't change midstream if they find the puzzle is too difficult, and they'll lose their work if they do. Although w3kids does seem to have lots of possible ways to engage kids, its content missteps and design errors prevent it from fully accomplishing its educational goals.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about observation skills with the octopus section by asking "What color is it?" and "How many tentacles does it have?" How do these skills help with counting or color recognition?
Talk about one of the topic areas in depth -- say, for instances, apples. Line up a set of yummy fruits that matches the text and explore the questions from the quiz ahead of time. Don't forget to do a taste test.
- Subjects: Language & Reading: following directions, letter or word recognition, naming, reading, reading comprehension, vocabulary
Math: addition, arithmetic, counting, division, grouping, multiplication, numbers, sequences, subtraction
Science: animals, biology, life cycle, plants
- Skills: Thinking & Reasoning: applying information, decision-making, memorization, part-whole relationships, solving puzzles
Self-Direction: academic development, initiative
Tech Skills: digital creation, using and applying technology
- Genre: Educational
- Topics: Numbers and Letters, Ocean Creatures, Science and Nature, Wild Animals
- Pricing structure: Free to try, Paid ($1.95 per month, $5.25 per quarter, $9.25 per 6 months, $15.95 per year, $27.95 for 2 years, $34.95 for 3 years. Subscribers can pay with PayPal or via PayPal using MC, VISA, Discover, or American Express.)
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