100 Best Sites for Preschool & Kindergarten

Table of Contents


Alphabet Fun Interactive Coloring
Interactive Dress-Up Games
Arts & Crafts Laugh-Out-Loud Poems
Aquariums Learning to Count
Bubbles Paper Crafts
Checkers Phonics
The Circus Sing Along
Dinosaurs Space
Easy Online Games Story Hour
Inside a Chocolate Factory Zoos

Alphabet Fun

Billy Bear's Alphabet Games
Billy Bear divides his alphabet games into four lessons. Lesson one is not really a lesson at all. Its only purpose is to load graphics into cache to speed up game play. Skip this and move right to lesson two, where your kindergartener can choose pictures that start with each letter. Notice how you don't have to click on the pictures? The answer is displayed as you move your mouse over them. The remaining games (for slightly older kids) involve finding letters on the keyboard.

Little Explorers
What a fun way to surf the Net! Each letter of Little Explorers' dictionary has dozens of illustrated entries, most of them linked to external sites. Explore Africa, acid rain, astronomy and more. As you roam onto the Net, the Little Explorers' alphabet frame remains at the top of your screen, so you can return at any time. The dictionary is also available in English/Spanish, English/French and Japanese.

Sesame Street Print and Play
When you're living on Sesame Street, B is for Bert and C is for Cookie Monster. Each letter of this alphabet prose is linked to a black-and-white picture to be printed and colored offline. Remember crayons?

Space ABC's
This mixed grade K-2 class from Portland, Oregon is studying space and the nine planets. As part of their study, they created Space ABC's. A is for asteroid belt. B is for Alan B. Shepard. C is for comet. Each letter is illustrated and many have audio recordings of the students reciting their entries. I overlooked a few technical glitches, because, after all, these webmasters are less than eight-years old. If I had to go back to kindergarten, I'd sure want to be in Room 100 at Buckman Elementary School.

Surfing for ABC's
Ms. Payton's K-1 class from Loogootee, Indiana went surfing for ABC's, and found airplanes, baseball and crocodiles. Use the back button on your browser to return after each hyperlink. Kids under twelve are invited to submit their own favorite sites, along with either a picture of themselves or a drawing they've made on the computer. For teachers, Ms. Payton includes a lesson plan.

Animal Cams
Live cameras connected to the Web can be either incredibly fascinating. Here is a collection of animal cams that includes a virtual game reserve, adoptable pets, a virtual zoo and a very busy bird feeder. Since all these images are live, some are visible only during daylight hours, so the time zone of each site ia noted.

Africam
"Africam welcomes you to the world's first virtual game reserve." This amazing site is a treasure trove of thirteen cams located in five South African national parks and game reserves. Choose from cams at watering holes, wild dog cams, elephant cams, even mobile cams operated by park rangers. Have you ever dreamed of going on a photo safari? Snap a picture of any of the cams (use the right-hand button on your mouse and choose Save Image As) and email it to Africam for possible selection as Picture of the Day. The competition is tough, however, as they often receive 500 images a day. (GMT+2)

Animal Planet
Although not devoted exclusively to animal cams, Animal Planet (from Discovery Online) has enough cams to be included in today's list. You'll find four cams listed in a row near the top of the page — they range from an adoptable puppy in the Miami Animal Shelter to sharks swimming in the Waikiki Aquarium. Don't miss the twin baby gorillas from the Oklahoma Children's Zoo (look for the link in the top right corner). Since the cams are geographically diverse, each has its own optimal viewing time. (HT, PT, CT, ET)

National Zoo Webcams
From the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., come nine animal cams and ZooTV with a schedule of live Webcast events. To savor the entire virtual zoo experience, take in the daily elephant foot care demo, the weekly Meet-a-Kiwi Webcam, or the naked mole-rat habitat tour. Some of these live events include chat. The Cutest-and-Cuddliest Award goes to the three Sumatran tiger cubs born on June 23.(ET)

Wild Birds Unlimited Bird Feeder Cam
Here is an opportunity to bird watch at a feeder that is never empty and always seems to have happy customers. (ET)

back to the top 

Arts & Crafts

Arts and Crafts
Remember the play dough recipe the preschool teacher gave you? When you've got to have it, but can no longer find it, just log in to Arts and Crafts. Here you'll find simple recipes for play dough, silly putty, salt clay and finger paint. For more recipes (sidewalk chalk and 3 recipes classified as Gooey Stuff) visit Fun Crafts for Kids. I just couldn't choose between these two recipe sites, so I had to include them both.

Michaels Kids Club Online
Sponsored by the craft store of the same name, Michaels Kids Club has an extensive and varied list of crafts. Each project includes a detailed supplies list (often using specialized items not usually found around the house on rainy days) and illustrated directions. Patterns are available for printing from your Internet browser, or can be picked up in the retail stores. Visit the bimonthly Kids Club newsletter for a story with related crafts. This month's edition features flying machines with a short history of human flight, a recipe for Flying Taco Cheese Boys and instructions for party favors with a flying theme.

back to the top 

Aquariums

Monterey Bay Aquarium
Cutely called an E-Quarium, highlights of the Monterey Bay site are the Habitats Path cybertour, the special features and At the CoRE (Conservation, Research and Education). First stop on the Habitats Path is the live Kelp Cam, which captures the changing sunlight streaming through the swaying kelp. The newest feature Fishing for Solutions asks "Are people catching and eating more than the ocean can produce?" This excellent exhibit takes a thoughtful look at the problem and suggests three things YOU can do to help conserve the ocean's bounty.

Photos of Mystic Aquarium
Photographer Janice Recker has created a delightful photo gallery from her recent trip to the Mystic Aquarium. If any of the pictures strike your fancy (as I'm sure they will), a full-size digital copy, suitable for Windows wallpaper, is free for the asking. Although this is not the official Mystic Aquarium site, I'm sure you'll agree it is provides a better cybr experience.

Bubbles

Exploratorium Soap Bubbles
What is so fascinating about bubbles? The precise spherical shape, the incredibly fragile nature of the soap film, the beautiful colors that swirl and shimmer? Or is it a combination of all these phenomena? Covering all aspects of the physics of bubbles, this site explains all. What do beehives have in common with bubble foam? Go to "Bubble Meets Bubble" to find out. I would expect nothing less than this terrific site from the wonderful San Francisco Exploratorium.

Professor Bubbles' Bubblesphere
He's traveled the world, entertaining audiences with his bubbles, and now Professor Bubbles shares his secrets. I especially enjoyed his homemade bubble tools and appreciated his simple bubble solution recipe. Be sure to read the Bubble FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions). Did you know you can tell a bubble is about to pop when it becomes colorless? I was unable to play Bubble Tic Tac Toe and found more than a few typos in the history of bubbles, keeping this site from getting a perfect score.

Soap Bubbles
Most bubbles pop instantly when you puncture them, but not super bubbles. With a funnel, string and super bubble solution, you can create a bubble that can be pierced with a pencil. Designed with instructions for classroom use, this site contains a couple of bubble experiments.

back to the top 

Checkers

Learn2 Play Checkers
"A few minutes to learn, a lot longer to master." Learn2 is a great introduction to checkers. In just three steps, the tutorial takes you from setting up the board to "emerging victorious." Learn2 hosts hundreds of other tutorials as well. From the checkers page, you'll find links to the chess and poker tutorials. A complete listing of "2torial" topics runs down the left-hand side of the page.

Let's Play Checkers
This is your chance to play against Chinook, the award-winning checkers program that defeated the masters. Chinook began in 1988 and quickly became a worthy opponent for the world's best checker players. By 1992 it had defeated all of the world's top human players, except Dr. Marion Tinsley, the world champion. The story of Chinook and the battle between man and machine is fascinating. You'll be pleased to know you can adjust Chinook's playing level to Novice, Amateur or Intermediate.

Playsite
Play against human opponents at this Java game site with chat. Playsite includes rooms for checkers, chess, backgammon, and more. You can play as a guest, but registered users (registration is free) get a rating that increases or decreases with play. After logging on, go to the Checkers room to find a match. Remember, the games includes chat, so appropriate parent supervision is recommended. My son really enjoyed the scrambled word game, Tangleword. It is fast, addictive, and you compete against many players at once.

Thinks.com
Play checkers against the computer at this visually-appealing Java checkers game by Cafesoft. You can set the level of difficulty by deciding how many moves (from one to ten) the computer can think ahead. You can also choose who plays first. Other Java games at this site include Connect4 and Blocks (a version of Tetris).

The Circus
Although circus-like performances have existed in many cultures for thousands of years, the history of the modern circus began in London in 1770 when Philip Ashley used a circular performance ring for exhibiting trick riding and horsemanship as a promotion for his horseback riding school. With the advent of a circular stage, the horses could be seen from all angles, and would never gallop out of sight. Even the size of his stage, forty-two feet in diameter, is now a circus standard.

Big Apple Circus
Founded twenty years ago by two jugglers, The Big Apple Circus is a non-profit one-ring big-top tent circus. Their educational site is my pick of the day because it is a treasure trove of delightful circus tidbits. Not to be missed sections include the downloadable Study Guide in Adobe Acrobat format ("a resource for students and teachers"), a history of the circus (titled Classical Circus in the left-hand menu,) and two 360-degree Virtual Tours (one of the big-top tent, the other of the stables.) And last, but not least, take a look at the animated tent raising.

Cirque du Soleil
Since their beginnings in the late eighties as a street festival in Quebec, Circque du Soleil has performed for more than thirty million people. Currently, their 575 performers are staging seven shows on four continents. Their animal-less performances are a tantalizing mixture of dance, acrobatics, and music. Best bets at their site (besides details on when and where they perform) are the video previews of their seven shows which you'll find under In the Ring.

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey
" Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, the online edition of The Greatest Show on Earth!" Following the left-hand menu, you can start your tour with Fun and Games, where you'll find Shockwave arcade games such as Create a Clown and Morph a Clown, circus-themed e-postcards, and a Ringmaster's Quiz. Other sections worth clicking are The Magnificent Menagerie (all about the circus animals and their care,) History & Tradition (a history of the RBBB circus), and an excellent section for teachers, homeschoolers and troop leaders titled Circus Works.

back to the top 

Dinosaurs
Although they certainly never went out of fashion, dinosaurs are enjoying a resurgence in popularity because of the recent release of Disney's animated Dinosaur movie. If all the related dinosaur hoopla is spurring a dino interest in your household, here are some educational sites to explore together.

Bonus: Dig These Dinosaurs
These twelve fun dino activities from Bonus.com are categorized into three age groups. The easiest activities are coded with a beach ball for ages three to six. Those for seven to elevens are marked with stars. And the most advanced (for ages twelve to fifteen) are labeled with an owl icon. My three favorite clicks are the Dinosaur Imposters ("It is your job to interrogate them and weed out the ‘imposter-saurs.'"), Dino Science ("Test your knowledge of dinosaur anatomy by matching the skeletons with their skulls.") and Dino Puzzle ("Put together a dinosaur skeleton and make it come alive!")

Sue at the Field Museum
Who is Sue? "Sue is the largest, most complete, and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex. She was discovered by fossil hunter Sue Hendrickson in 1990, in the badlands of South Dakota." Following a long custody battle, Sue was sold at Sotheby's auction house October 4, 1997. The Field Museum purchased Sue for nearly $8.4 million – the most money ever paid for a fossil. On May 17 of this year, the museum revealed Sue. She stands thirteen feet high at her hips and is forty-two feet long from head to tail.

Walking with Dinosaurs
There are so many ways to explore this BBC site (my pick-of-the-day!) it's hard to decide where to begin. I suggest clicking on Today's Choice to view the Flash episode of the day. And, since fun is such an important part of learning, don't miss the Games and Quizzes -- which is where you will find the dinosaur Web cam (the only one of its kind on the WHOLE Internet.) For a unique collection of dino jokes ("Why did the Apatosaurus devour the factory? Because she was a plant eater") click on Dig Deeper, then You Sent Us.

Wanted: Albertosaurus
"Last seen alive 68 million years ago in an area now called Alberta in Canada. Has powerful jaws and sharp teeth, but poses no immediate danger. Evidence of an Albertosaurus mass burial found about 90 years ago, but exact site not known. Information leading to its whereabouts requested by dino detective Phillip Currie." Learn how real-life palaeontologist Currie tracked down the missing burial site. Curie and his team have, so far, unearthed the remains of twelve Albertosaurs, evidence that these carnivores probably lived in packs.

Easy Online Games
What do kids do with computers? Play, of course. And to encourage them, here is a collection of my  online games for pre-readers. A few of these games require Shockwave, others require a Java-capable browser.

Billy Bear's Online Games
Billy Bear has a large collection of games for preschoolers and early elementary grades created with Java and JavaScript. This means you don't need to download any plug-ins, but you do need a newish browser (at least Netscape 3.0 or Internet Explorer 4.0). Be sure to have both Java and JavaScript enabled in your Netscape preferences or Internet Explorer options. Some of these games are very cute. Others are just ho-hum. My personal favorite is the addictive Billy Bear Solitaire: the aim of the game is to delete as many bears as possible by jumping checkers-style.

Funschool.com
From preschool to sixth grade, Funschool.com is a cornucopia of grade-specific activities. All are Java-based, so have the same browser requirements as Billy Bear (see above). At the bottom of each activity screen are buttons to play another scenario of the same game, to restart the current game, or return to the grade-level game listings. Learning these will help you get around. My favorite preschool game is Fishing for Numbers, where the player matches numbers to sets of fish. For older kids, I like the geography game "Where in the world?"

Gustown Games
This gallery of eight games is just right for the preschool and kindergarten set. You'll find two memory matching games (Ice Going and Haunted Memory Mansion), three create-a-face games (Macaroni Art, Snow Man and Create-a-Creature), and two music games (Milk Bottle and Rom's Rock Shop). And at last but not least, match the animal to its paw print in "Whose Foot is It Anyway?"

Hop Pop Town
These three ingenious neighborhoods are filled with musical sounds available for the clicking. Similar to the popular Living Books series (which taught our children to click on everything), each clicked object animates and plays a sound. Sequences of sounds can be recorded and played back. For older kids (or parents who take dictation), they also have writing pages based on material from the musical games.

JumpStart Kids Game Center
Based on characters from their line of educational CD-ROMS, this chock-full-of-fun Java game center has activities for toddlers, preschoolers and elementary students. For preschoolers, try the Slider Puzzles (very easy) and the Sticker Book. For early readers, my pick is Pluck a Pearl, where players need to find words that match vowel sounds. For older elementary-age, I like Lemonade Stand, which introduces basic business math (gross sales minus expense's equals profits). Connect the Dots is a variation on the familiar theme, because it incorporates addition and subtraction and has challenging puzzles for kids up to fourth grade.

Scrambler
This Scrambler game is fun for the whole family because you are timed as you play at one of three levels of difficulty. Easy divides the picture into nine tiles, medium into twelve, and hard into sixteen tiles. There are ten pictures to choose from, and every time I've visited this site they have added more Little ones will need help choosing a picture, then pressing "Load" and "Scramble". But as soon as they see the scrambled tiles, they will understand what to do next. Can you beat your preschooler? My little mouse clickers are fast.

Sesame Street Kidsite
The folks at Sesame Street are experimenting with a clever way to minimize the wait associated with the Web. Your next game is downloaded in the background while you're playing the current game. When it becomes available, a blue button with a yellow arrow will appear in the lower right corner. Click on this button to proceed to your next game. In the Storybook, your child can create illustrations for a six-page sticker story. Activities include a puzzle with Ernie, another with Telly, and a four-page coloring book. This site requires a Java-enabled browser (no Shockwave), and they recommend a souped-up machine such as a Pentium with Windows 95.

Time for Teletubbies!
The Teletubbies come all the way from Britain, where they have their own television show. Play a tune on the voice trumpets (fun for all ages) by moving your mouse over the flowers, then clicking on the trumpets as they appear. I never thought vacuuming could be made into a game, but I actually had fun helping Noo Noo the elephant "hoover" (that's English for vacuum) up the falling toast. All require Shockwave.

back to the top 

Inside a Chocolate Factory
The fascination with chocolate factories is aptly captured by Roald Dahl's classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Charlie is the proud winner of a golden ticket, his entree to the event of a lifetime: a behind-the-scenes tour of Willie Wonka's chocolate factory. Here are some virtual chocolate factory tours. No tickets, golden or otherwise, required.

Hershey's Chocolate Tour
Hershey's plant in Pennsylvania, with nearly two million square feet of manufacturing space, is the largest chocolate factory in the world. Since opening in 1905, it's hosted millions of visitors. The public tour, however, was discontinued in 1973. But today, without even leaving home, you can take the tour that made Hershey, PA "one of America's favorite destinations." First I learned that cocoa beans, the primary ingredient of chocolate, grow only within twenty degrees of the equator. No wonder no one in my neighborhood grows their own chocolate. Continuing with sugar, almonds, peanuts and milk, you'll learn about each ingredient and each part of the manufacturing process.

M&M Factory Tour
"Actually, the story of M&M's began thousands of years ago - the Mayan and Aztec civilizations of Central America used to make a drink from the beans of the cacao tree. Spanish colonists brought the drink back to Europe in 1528, but it wasn't until over 300 years later that a method was found to produce solid chocolate." After a quick animated tour of the M&M factory and a tongue-in-cheek monorail tour of the M&M studio, this Web site is all Shockwave fun and games.

Wonka Factory
This animated playground created by Nestlé, was inspired by Dahl's Willie Wonka character. In the science lab, you'll learn about the melting points of solids such as chocolate, butter, sugar and ice. Or balance the acid and alkali levels in the sweet and sour candies. In the Inventonator, you can arrange musical machine parts to create a melody. All the games require Shockwave, and are designed for the under-ten set. Though obviously designed to sell their candies, the result is fun and educational.

Interactive Coloring
Many of the coloring pages found on the Net are the print-and-play variety. Print out the black and white picture and use your crayons to color them in. Today's sites, however, are virtual coloring books — you color, paint and draw right on your computer screen. These interactive coloring pages are great for preschoolers, kindergartners and budding artists of all ages.

Coloring.com
This site hits the mark with a large selection of pictures and the ability to email your completed masterpieces to friends and family with a small personal note. Coloring.com loses a star, however, for only letting you color within the lines -- no free form coloring is possible. Pictures are grouped into topics such as cars (the largest topic), animals, birthdays and holidays. What a fun way to send electronic art across the Net!

Disney Online Paint & Play
To find the Disney coloring pages, click on "Paint and Play" and a list of characters (Ariel, Mulan, Lion King and Winne the Pooh) will appear on the right. Choosing your favorite character will load a Java-based Paint Center which includes a variety of paintbrushes for free form painting (hooray!), a paint can tool for filling spaces, lots of colors, an eraser, water to lighten your paints, a stamp pad with a nice selection of stamps (fun, fun, fun) and several pictures. Use the arrow or Mickey's pointing finger to advance from one picture to the next.

Kaleidoscope Painter
Now for something totally different: Kaleidoscope Painter creates colorful spiraling fractal designs based on the movement of your mouse. You can change the effects by moving your mouse or resizing the brush. You can even put it on Auto and watch as the mesmerizing lacy designs create themselves. Guaranteed to capture your imagination.

Radicalman's Coloring Book
These four Shockwave pictures from the cartoonist Radicalman are equipped with not just one palette of colors, but four that range from pastel to bold. Another unique feature is Scramble, which automatically colors the picture with a selection of random colors. Very young point-and- clickers will enjoy being able to paint an entire picture with a single click -- and watching the colors change with each subsequent click.

Surfnetkids Picture Games
From my very own Surfnetkids site, comes this collection of picture games, including a dozen coloring pages, as well as slider and scrambler games and the very popular matching games (often called Concentration.)

Zeeks Art & Music
These sixteen Zeek art and music games are my pick of the day. To find the coloring sites, simply click on Sort by Subject, and you'll find them listed under Art Tools and Drawing. Which of these games are the most popular? Sort by Popularity and the number you see listed by each game is the number of times it's been played. My favorite clicks are Array ("create cool animations on this colorful lightboard,") Snowflake ("practice your paper snowflake making technique,") and Coloring Book("Color away! Use our coloring book or make your own designs.")

back to the top 

Interactive Dress-Up Games
Today's youngsters would find these interactive dress-up games appealing. All of today's sites require the free downloadable Shockwave plugin.

Dunston Checks In: The Royal Suite
"Dunston's got a whole wardrobe of hip clothing. But, typical of most male primates, he can't seem to get dressed by himself." Dunston has found the Royal Suite, and needs your help choosing from a variety of boxer shorts, dresses, swim suits, hats and cool shades. Each click- and-drag has a swell coo-coo-clock sound effect, but like Dinorella, Dunston only can wear his hats on his head, and his sunglasses on his face.

Ricky Racoon and Heidi Hedgehog
Cute little Ricky Racoon can be dressed for the beach, tennis or baseball. If you correctly match all the right clothes and accessories (for example, you bring the sand bucket to the beach, and not the baseball glove), Ricky rewards you with a small animation. Heidi Hedgehog (you'll find her link just below Ricky) can be dressed as a doctor, a soccer player, for playing outside or in fancy grown-up dress-up clothes.

Scout in Space
"Scout may be lost in space, but he has plenty of things to wear."

Laugh-Out-Loud Poems
Do  kids think poetry is stuffy and boring? Selected re these five poetry collections for their laugh-ability. These funny poems are best when shared aloud, so go grab your loved ones – and read them a funny poem.

Giggle Poetry
Bruce Lansky's books are among America's best-selling children's poetry books, with more than 500,000 copies in print. His site not only includes a large archive of funny poems (from Lansky and other Meadowbrook Press poets), it also has fill-in-the-blank poetry activities, advice for would-be poets, and poems to grade (which ones are good enough to be published?) Here's a familiar one with a twisted ending, written by Bill Dodd. "Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream, until you hit the waterfall – then you'll start to scream."

Grandpa Tucker's Rhymes and Tales
I can picture Grandpa Tucker in my mind's eye, my imagination encouraged by his cartoon figure and the bluegrass music playing in the background. Grandpa Tucker writes an original monthly story in verse, and shares his collection of fun illustrated poems. He offers this advice to parents. "....I believe that the most important reading being done anywhere in the world is when an adult reads to a child. I believe children will leave Nintendo or stop roller blading for a few minutes to share the closeness of sharing a story."

Poetry for Kids
Kenn Nesbitt is an young poet (I get to call him that ‘cause he's younger then me) who writes zany poems with hysterically funny punch lines. Try reading them aloud to your kids or your class, or better yet, have your children read them to their friends and classmates. Here's a snippet from "The Amusement Park." " We went to an amusement park, my family and I. We rode on rides so scary I expected I would die. We rode a rollercoaster called The Homicidal Comet. It had so many loop-de-loops it nearly made us vomit."

Seussville University
"Welcome to Seussville University, where you can have ‘lots of good fun that is funny' while learning basic reading, math, science, and reasoning skills." From the Cat's Concentration game to Green Eggs and Ham picture scramble, Dr. Seuss fans will find plenty to crow about. My don't-miss-it pick of the day is the Shockwave "Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!" game (listed under Reasoning.) It is based on the book written by Jack Prelutsky, inspired by work Dr. Seuss left incomplete at the time of his death in 1991.

The Verse of Ogden Nash
"God in his wisdom made the fly, And then forgot to tell us why." I remember Ogden Nash from my childhood ("The Tale of Custard the Dragon" in particular) and I think this collection of eight animal poems is a perfect Ogden Nash introduction for a new generation of fans. Click on "Return to KidzPage" to navigate the rest of this poetry site, which includes "Critter ABC's," Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky, " and assorted limericks.

back to the top 

Learning to Count
Here are 1-2-3-4-5 recommendations for your littlest point-and- clickers, just learning to count. But wait, there's more.

Fun School Preschool
The preschool section of Funschool.com is a cornucopia of great Java games. Among the counting activities are Number Matching, Connect the Numbers, What's the Order? and Teach Me 1-2-3's. Before you begin, spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself with the buttons at the button of each screen. One will return you to the grade-level game listing, one will restart the current game, and one will take you to the next game. My favorite counting game is Fishing for Numbers, where you match numbers to sets of fish. For older siblings up to grade six, try The Spot.

Humphrey's Counting House
Only one of Humphrey's Shockwave games actually involves counting, but Humphrey the singing, dancing bear is amusing enough to earn his place here anyway. Click on the cards for a well-implemented game of concentration, matching the numbers one through six to their appropriate pictures. Other treats are a coloring book which is better than most I've seen, and a fun music game (can you repeat a pattern of xylophone notes?) And don't miss Humphrey's opening dance number, just click on his smiling head.

Kid's Carnival Numbers
The starting page warns that these Java games take a while to download, and even at cable speed, they are right. So grab a snack and relax. You'll be rewarded with five different number games and six Connect-a-Dots. How Many? and Counting Fun are the easiest of the number games. The other three get into higher mathematical concepts such as addition and subtraction. Connect-a-Dot is a perennial counting favorite, but be forewarned the red-on-blue numbers are difficult to read.

Preschool Numbers with Kylie Kangaroo
Straight forward and fast loading, this site is the easiest of today's selections. Simply click on a number (zero to nine) for a corresponding picture (four butterflies, seven soccer balls, etc.) When your little one tires of clicking, mosey on over to the activities page for additional games such as Build a Ruler (place the numbers in order) and lots of word scrambles and puzzles.

Paper Crafts
More than 2,000 years ago, the Chinese were the first to use fiber from hemp and the inner bark of the mulberry tree to make paper. Today paper is of our most important industrial products. Paper, it seems, is everywhere. That's why paper craft projects are always a popular choice for home or school.

Best Paper Airplane
During the summer of 1950, eight-year-old Michael O'Reilly watched in amazement as his sister's boyfriend made the best paper airplane in the whole world. "When he started folding the paper, I knew this was something different, something special. He never explained how he did it but every move, every fold, every detail was burned into my memory." Today, Michael shares the secrets of the DC-3 paper airplane: how to build it and how to fly it.

How to Fold a Flying Paper Water Bomb
The kid in me loved this one: an origami kamikaze water flyer. You'll need a Java-capable browser to view the animated step-by-step instructions. When finished, the plane can be filled with a small amount of water or chad. Just don't throw it in the house! (Guess the kid in me just grew up.)

Ken Blackburn Paper Airplanes
Ken Blackburn loves making paper airplanes and currently holds the Guinness Book record for time aloft (27.6 seconds.) It all started at age thirteen, when Ken created a paper plane that could fly over a quarter of a mile. He kept refining the design, and while in college won his first world record. It was November, 1983, and Ken's winning entry stayed aloft for 16.89 seconds. And yes, he does share his plans on how to fold a record breaking plane. Look for the "Paper Airplanes You Can Fold" link.

Learn2 Make Homemade Paper
"Making your own paper is fun, easy, and a delightful project for the weekend. Homemade paper lends a distinctive personal touch to any project from greeting cards to a personal note or letter. And it's much easier than it sounds once you draw off your first page or two." This seven-step "2torial" takes you through the entire process from gathering your materials to drying your papers on a clothesline. Allow about an hour to create your homemade paper, and then three hours to dry (assuming the weatherman cooperates.)

MakingFriends.com: Preschool Paper Crafts
For younger hands, MakingFriends.com gives us fourteen "economical, age-appropriate paper projects for two to five year olds." All projects include detailed instructions, and many include printable templates for cutting or coloring. But don't stop at the preschool paper projects. MakingFriends.com is chock full of pages and pages of craft ideas for kids of all ages.

Paper Airplane Hangar
"The most important thing when making a plane is not making the folds in exactly the right place, although this is important. More important is making each fold well." The Paper Airplane Hangar is filled with good advice on how to fix common flying problems such as veering left, right, or flying into the ground. It also includes safety rules, things your mother always told you like "Never throw planes at people." Since most of the danger lies in the point of the plane, Ben Yeomans recommends the sharp nose be either cut or folded down for kids.

Paper University
Created by the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI), Paper University includes not just paper craft projects but also interesting science activities ("How Does a Paper Towel Absorb Water?") and an introduction to the ecology of paper manufacturing ("Are We Running out of Trees?" and "How is Paper Recycled?") Click on Art Class for five craft projects including a recipe for paper mâché, pulp ornaments and jewelry made with candy molds, and a stuffed paper bag fish.

Pieces ‘n Creases: A Fun Guide to Origami
"Origami (pronounced or-i-GA-me) is the Japanese art of paperfolding. ‘Ori' is the Japanese word for folding and ‘kam' is the Japanese word for paper. That is how origami got its name. However, origami did not start in Japan. It began in China in the first or second century and then spread to Japan sometime during the sixth century." Pieces ‘n Creases won Best of Contest in the 1999 ThinkQuest Jr. Internet Challenge, and it's easy to see why. Enjoy the activities, the history, and the poems. "After you've visited our Web site, you won't be able to pass up a square piece of paper without a little folding."

Sabertooth: A Paper Airplane
Here's another one described as "the best paper airplane there is ... no hassles like paper clips, scissors, or tape." This is a straight-forward design, with easy-to-follow illustrated instructions.

back to the top 

Phonics
World Book Dictionary defines "phonics" as "a method of teaching reading by association of letters and combinations of letters with their appropriate speech sounds." Rather than enter into the debate about whether children should be taught to read using phonics or whole language, here are five great sites to help children learn the sounds of our language.

BBC Education: Words and Pictures
Yes, they do have British accents and call their mothers "Mum" instead of "Mom," but this BBC site does a fabulous job of integrating audio and animation into a really fun learning experience. Try Jim's Crankophone for practice in distinguishing vowel sounds in Consonant-Vowel-Consonant words. Use the teacher's panel to control which vowels are tested. I also liked the ten long-vowel poems ("Mr. Creep is hardly sweet. He's got three legs and smelly feet.") with voice-over and activities.

Free Worksheets: Phonics
Although offline worksheets sometimes get a bad rap as the symbol of everything that's wrong with rote learning, I've found that students enjoy them and teachers appreciate them. And these printable worksheets are top-notch. There are hundreds to choose from, covering long and short vowels, blends, consonants, digraphs, and the ever-popular "Miscellaneous." Once you've selected your worksheet, it appears on your screen in a browser frame, which means that before you Print, you need to click once on the worksheet to make it the active frame.

I Know That: Phonics
Now we move from paper worksheets to interactive ones where the word search puzzles actually pronounce and spell each word as you find it! Phonics is all about the learning of sounds, and this site has plenty of sound. It's colorful, fun and has lots of variety, even though it's not complete yet. For example, short vowels are covered, but long vowels are not. As you finish each game, you earn certificates that can be printed or e-mailed to friends, family and teachers.

Phonemic Awareness
Julie Vickery, a teacher of English as both a second and first language, has created a page of ten in-real-life activities to help reinforce the learning of phonics. Activities include Clapping Alphabet Chants ("A says /a/ like apple. A says /a/ /a/ /a/."), Alphabet I Spy ("I spy something that begins with the letter B.") and Letters in the Sand ("Fill disposable aluminum pie pans with approximately one-half inch of sand or salt. Call a letter or word. Students write the letter or beginning letter in their pans.")

Saxon Publishers Phonics Activities
"In this activity children are asked to match one of three pictures with a given word." Saxon Publishers has produced two interactive activities (Picture-Word Match and Word-Picture Match) that tie-in with their phonics textbooks, but are useful whether you use their books or not. Start by selecting a grade level (K, 1 or 2), a lesson number (from 22 to 140) and the number of problems you want to complete (from five to twenty.)

Sing Along
Turn your home computer into a karaoke machine with these fun, sing along sites. All you need is an Internet connection and your multimedia computer. And although you can sing without it, a microphone connected to your sound card completes the transformation.

MIDI Karaoke!
"The Site Where YOU are the Star! 5,768,412 Singers Can't Be Wrong!" Although there are no traditional children's songs here, Alan August has a fun mix of music that includes TV Hits such as Brady Bunch, Scooby Doo, Flintstones and Gilligan's Island. If you are an Internet Explorer user, try the Scrolling Karaoke, where the lyrics automatically scroll across your browser window. With my configuration, however, the words scrolled by so quickly, they were gone before I needed them. The Traditional Karaoke pages (with their static lyrics) will work for all browsers.

Lidwina's Disney Song Collection
Lidwina's collection of 120 Disney melodies with lyrics is sure to keep you singing for hours. From Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? from the 1933 Three Little Pigs, to four selections from the 1999 Tarzan movie, this site is a wonderful romp through nearly seventy years of Disney songs. The songs are in standard MIDI format.

NIEHS Sing Along Music and MIDIs
"Music! It's really good for you. Scientists at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences study the impact of our environment on our health. Even sounds in our environment can have an effect, so scientists have studied the effects of music on our physical and mental functions for many years. For example, it has been determined that music in our environment plays an important role in stress reduction!" Hmmm, and that is supposed to explain why the NIEHS spends our money on a sing along site? Politics aside, the site has a nice collection that includes patriotic songs not found elsewhere.

PBS Kids Karaoke
"It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood. A beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?" But that's not all. In addition to Mister Roger's Neighborhood, there's everyone's favorite purple dinosaur Barney, and songs from Arthur and Theodore Tugboat. These PBS songs are the original recordings, not Karaoke melodies. And although some of them (such as Mister Roger's) include printed lyrics, most do not. Requires Shockwave and RealPlayer.

back to the top 

Space
Outer space holds a fascination for kids of all ages, and today's site picks include material for early elementary ages, as well as high schoolers (and beyond.) Before we start, here's bonus tip: NASA hosts a multitude of online chats with astronauts, astronomers and space engineers. For the monthly calendar, click on over to NASA's Schedule of Live Web Events.

NASA Kids
With news about current space events and links to age-appropriate reference material (some of it at external sites), NASA Kids brings us space in a tidy package. Reference topics are divided into Space & Beyond, Rockets & Airplanes and Pioneers & Astronauts. Activities are listed under Projects & Games. Most of the site is easy to navigate, it is organized as a hierarchy of links, but I did reach a few dead ends where I needed to use my browser back button to find my way home.

Space Kids
Landing at SpaceKids.com is like being sent to play in outer space! Filled with feature stories, questions and answers, contests and interactive games for the elementary-age crowd, Space Kids is the younger sibling of Space.com. Middle-schoolers (and older) should visit Space.com (look for the link on the left-hand menu) for in-depth space news and science. "Our primary mission is the popularization of space. Our commitment is to a greater public understanding and enthusiasm about space and space-related subjects." And I'd say they are hitting their mark.

Space Place
Space Place is the place for hands-on elementary-age space crafts ("Make your own jewel in the sky — a model Saturn decoration"), space activities ("Play our Intergalactic Adventures board game and be the first to explore a black hole and live to tell about it!") and space experiments ("Test a new spacecraft material.") You'll also find a smattering of fun space facts, but not exhaustive reference material.

Virtual Journey into the Universe
If you have Shockwave and Java capabilities, fasten your seat belt for this exceptional virtual tour of our solar system. Starting in the cockpit, you have your choice of ten destinations: from the Sun to Pluto and Neptune. Upon arriving at each planet (or star), you can peruse the illustrated features (such as Exploration, Surface, and Interior) or explore the interactive component that might be a game or an explanatory animation. A tip of my astronaut's helmet to the student team that created this site for the 1999 ThinkQuest competition.

Story Hour
Libraries are wonderful places. We have a terrific one near us, and I go regularly with my kids. But now there's another library to visit. It's open around the clock and you'll never incur a fine. It's the Web! When looking for something new for story time, these sites are worth exploring.

Concertina Books on the Internet
These four beautifully illustrated books were published simultaneously in print and on the Internet . My favorite is "Waking in Jerusalem" by Sharon Katz. It is the story of a young child who arises before his parents and watches the city of Jerusalem wake up.

Internet Public Library Story Hour
This page contains five illustrated stories. I enjoyed "Do Spiders Live on the World Wide Web?" which defines common computer terms by contrasting them with everyday words. "White mouse: Small squeaky furry rodent. Computer mouse: A way of telling the computer what to do without using the keyboard."

Read Along Stories
This site rates a perfect score for it's three original illustrated stories and the discussion topics before and after each story. Go for a "Jellybean Adventure" and see where your imagination and a bag of jellybeans can transport you. This is the only story at this site suitable for small children. "Rebel Cows" is a parable about being threatened by a gang of cows. "The steer must have been the leader because he wore his Raider's cap tilted to the left." It includes an audio narration of the entire story, but I don't have the patience to download such large audio files. "The Grindelstark" is a fairy tale about a horrible forest monster who eats townsfolk, but in the end is outsmarted by a small girl.

Theodore the Tug Boat Interactive Story
"Theodore the Tug Boat" is a Canadian TV series about a cheerful and friendly tug boat. At the end of each page, your child chooses between two possible story paths. Should Theodore welcome the big ship or go visit his friend? With 128 possible story paths, this site can be enjoyed many times by preschoolers and beginning readers.

back to the top 

Zoos
Offered here are the best zoos on the Net. The objective, as always, was to find sites offering a quality educational experience, not just brochure sites listing hours and admission prices. Here's what was found. Hope you enjoy the lions and tigers and bears!

Lincoln Park Zoo
If you have homework to do, a column to write, or any other important business to get to, do not even think about looking at the live Tiger Cam. Once you see the tigers, start playing with the zoom, and realize you can move the camera around by clicking anywhere on the image, you'll be hooked. After you pry yourself away from the tigers, you can visit the rest of the animals by taking the virtual tour, or by clicking on the Mammals, Birds or Reptiles/Amphibians headings.

Los Angeles Zoo: Zoo Animals
This month's featured resident is Savannah, a baby maned wolf being raised in the zoo nursery with Elsa, a yellow Labrador retriever. When Savannah's mother rejected her, the zookeepers were concerned that the hand-raised wolf might imprint on humans, and never learn to socialize as a dog. So Elsa, on loan from Guide Dogs of America, is "Savannah's canine companion, helping her to learn how to act like a dog."

National Zoo
The National Zoo in Washington, D.C. hosts the best online audio tour I have seen. It is the same audio wand tour you could rent if you were visiting the zoo, but on the Web it's free! Other highlights include the Animal Photo Library (guaranteed to make you smile), and the National Zoo Cinema. Attention all teachers: you and your students are invited to a free weekly video conference, hosted in the Elephant House.

San Diego Zoo & Wild Animal Park
Join D.L. Armstrong on a research trek into the Wild Animal Park's newest exhibit, Heart of Africa. Each day of the two-week journey includes "a glimpse of what I discovered that day — perhaps a page from my journal, an animal photograph, or a video clip." Other interesting reports (such as the first condor birth of 1998) can be found in the What's New section. While you're cyber-vacationing at the zoo, don't forget your friends and family back home. Send them a digital conservation postcard!