Zoodles Blog Learn and Play Every Day

September 29, 2009

3 Fun Ways to Practice Handwriting with Your Kids

Filed under: Family Activities,Schools and Learning — Erin @ 3:12 pm

Do you remember those long hours you spent in 3rd grade tracing the loops of your p’s and q’s? The slow cramp that developed in your hand as you clenched your #2 pencil?

48a16547-f4a3-4306-b94b-1f00e1c07bcf.hmediumWell we’re happy to say those days are gone.  A recent article by the Associated Press pays tribute to the waning use of cursive in schools.  “Cursive writing may be a fading skill, but so what?” the article is titled.  Even at Zoodles we’ve been forced to consider the value of learning cursive – we keep track of games that teach Penmanship, but we’ve yet to encounter any!  Meanwhile, the number of Zoodles games teaching Typing and Computer Literacy continues to increase.  Check out a few below!


Your child develops spelling and computer keyboard skills by typing words out of letters to win the sailing competition.Your child develops typing skills by typing words on the word balloons as quickly as possible in order to avoid colliding with their plane. Your child develops typing skills by typing the individual letters on cups.

Despite our company “meh” on the death of cursive, we still thought of some neat activities you can use to help your child start practicing their handwriting, with or without the loops.

Wipe Clean Activity Books

We heard this one straight from the moms!  Roger Priddy’s developed cardboard books that little kids can write on using dry erase markers!  It’s the perfect activity for tracing letters and learning to love books – just make sure your little ones know which books to write on!

Writing on Foggy Windows

Heart in foggy windowWhether it’s on the mirror in your bathroom or the window by their carseat, nothing’s more fun than tracing letters on foggy surfaces!  Take advantage of these magical moments by encouraging your child to write their name or draw some animals.  Both improve fine motor skills!

Put Old Checkbooks to Use!

IMG_4274Nothing talks louder than money!  Let your children practice their handwriting while filling out old or fake checks to themselves.  Some parents even use “checks” from “The Family Bank” as rewards for good behavior!  Whether or not the activity’s tied to rewards, most kids will just have fun playing grown-up.  Writing checks not only gets in some good practice writing numbers and letters, but it even sneaks in some *cursive* when they get started on their signature!     If you prefer not to use old checks, here’s a link to some printable check templates for kids.

September 21, 2009

Blocking Ads from Children

Filed under: Parental Controls,Technology in the Home,Zoodles Blog — Erin @ 5:36 pm

Zoodles is proud to announce the release of a major new feature, ad-blocking!  With Zoodles ad-blocking enabled, children will no longer be exposed to ads within the Zoodles browser.

Since the founding of the company we have heard over and over again from parents that the advertising their children are subjected to results in parents being less comfortable putting their children online.  As a parent I feel the same way and I have personally found many of the ads that are displayed on sites for children not only annoying, but in some cases disturbing.  Here are a few examples of ads that we have found on sites for children:

Just look at this Nissan ad we found on a popular gaming site!  Do they really think 7 year olds are interested in cash back on a sedan?

car ad targetd to children

What parent wants their child playing a game described as “Action Shooter Meets Gang Themed MMO”… much less even looking at the ad!:

Gang Themed MMO targeted to children

And finally, here is an ad I am happy that my daughter will now never see again –  Hugh Hefner with partially dressed women promoting a video game!  Not the example I want to set for my 5 year old daughter!

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I am happy to state that all of these ads will be blocked by the new and improved Zoodles browser!

Blocking advertising from children will also result in their ability to better concentrate on the games and activities they are trying to perform.  A child who is playing a challenging math game won’t have to waste working memory on the giant flashing advertisement next to the game, they will be able to use all their cognitive abilities on learning!

Below is an image that shows the difference the Zoodles ad-blocker can make.  The screen shot on the left shows a game from Nick Jr. with all the advertisements highlighted in red while the screen shot on the right shows the same game with the Zoodles ad-blocking enabled.  Notice all the sections of the screenshot on the right that are highlighted green… these are where the ads used to be. For those you counting, yes if you counted correctly… there were 8 ads on the original page!


Here is another game for children showing the before and after effects of Zoodles blocking ads targeted to children.


With over 18 advertisements targeted to children in the above screen shot you can really see the effect of removing ads from the child’s experience.

I want to thank the entire team for working hard on building this new Premium Feature, especially Michael on our engineering team!  Every family who signs-up for Zoodles will get a free trial of the Zoodles Premium Membership and they can test this feature out for themselves.  For any of you parents out there that find ads still showing up in Zoodles, just let us know and we will hunt them down and find a way to block them!

So if you hate advertisements targeted toward children be sure to tell your friends about Zoodles and how we block advertisements from kids!

September 15, 2009

Introducing Dave

Filed under: Zoodles Blog — Erin @ 7:02 pm

How does one top working on some of the most popular web products in the world like Google Maps and Gmail?  Well, you come to work at Zoodles of course!  I am pleased to announce that Dave Young, who spent the last 3.5 years at Google has joined us here at Zoodles to lead up our product design efforts.  Dave has a strong track record of creating compelling user experiences and I am really excited to have him join the team!  Here is a little more formal write-up about Dave’s background:

Dave YoungDave Young has joined Zoodles to lead our Product Design as we expand our offerings to provide new online experiences that are fun and easy to use.  Dave comes to us from Google where he was a User Experience Designer on Google Maps, Google Trends, Google Docs, OpenSocial, Sharing, Google Moderator, Gmail and Adwords. Prior to Google Dave also worked as a User Experience Designer for Scholastic.com and was a Teachers Assistant for Kindergarten, Pre-K and Preschool at a Reggio Emilia™ school. Dave attended Carnegie Mellon University where he completed a BFA in “Communication Design” and a MS in “Human Computer Interaction”.

Welcome Dave!

September 10, 2009

Four Awesome Math Websites Featured on Zoodles

Filed under: Family Activities,Schools and Learning — Erin @ 2:09 pm

It’s our job to find the best educational content on the web.  Period.  For a lot of parents it can be a struggle to sift through everything that’s out there and come back with fun, engaging games that – to top it all off – are at their child’s grade level.  Since we’ve already been doing that work, we thought we’d share some of the best stuff we’ve found.  While Zoodles features hundreds of math games from across the Internet, we’ve highlighted four of the best websites for teaching math.  Our hope is not only to clue you in on what kinds of games your child’s been playing on Zoodles, but to give you a chance to explore them on your own.  Each of these sites have tremendously beneficial sections that for security or technical reasons can’t be featured within the Zoodles browser.  Read about them below and see why they’re worth checking out yourself!

1) FactMonster

factmonster The best thing about FactMonster is that it creates animated storylines and characters that give context around each of the math concepts being taught. For budding mathematicians just learning to count, Big Count Bayou features a fox, a moose, and some frogs who recruit your child’s help in counting, adding, and grouping animals in the bayou. For higher grade levels, Cowboy Math teaches kids how to crack codes on vaults using complex addition and multiplication. Fraction Cafe asks kids to help build pizzas for Frenchy using different amounts of toppings. Baseball Geometry motivates kids to listen to the Coach as he draws up a game plan involving angles, and then to answer some geometry questions to earn at-bats! Each of the animated storylines have distinct sections that teach progressively harder math concepts.

Picture 3 Picture 5 Picture 6

Why you should check it out:
Because the games are designed by the popular curriculum publisher Pearson Digital Learning, the math concepts are also paired with printable flashcards and activities for parents to supplement the activities with.

2) Arcademic Skill Builders

Picture 15

Arcademic Skill Builders focuses less on teaching math concepts and more on improving the speed and ease of doing mental math. What’s great about Arcademic Skill Builders is that they situate this practice in highly engaging arcade-like games that involve racing or some other form of competition. Each of the games can also be tailored specifically to your child’s level, as you can set the range of numbers to be used in the problems.

Picture 22 Picture 19 Picture 23 Picture 25

Why you should check it out:
They have the unique quality of embedding math problems into online Multi-Player games, which further engages kids who are motivated by competition. While Zoodles does allow kids to play the single-player games, we have blocked access to the multi-player games for safety purposes. If you don’t mind having your child interact with others online, the multi-player games are definitely worth checking out!

3) Funschool

Picture 26Funschool is an amazing website if only for the high quality of animation used in their games. While Funschool also features games in other subjects, their math games are extremely popular with Zoodles users. Among the most popular are games you might recognize: Addition Attack, Fishin Mission, and Cannon Math!


Why you should check it out:
Of the 34 math games that Funschool offers, Zoodles only includes 7 in the Zoodles browser because of technical incompatibilities.

4) School Time Games

gamesi11Last but not least is School Time Games. What makes School Time Games unique from the other sites is that its games focus more on the abstract concepts involved in mathematical thinking, rather than the procedural concepts more commonly taught in school. Its games – listed both under Mathematics and Puzzles – hone skills like spatial reasoning, logical thinking, strategy, and memory. The graphics aren’t as great as some of the other sites, but the games can keep you going for hours!


Why you should check it out:
Like the others, School Time Games focuses not just on fun games, but on fun educational games, and brands itself as “wholesome learning fun for kids.” What we’ve found is that many of its games are wholesome learning fun for adults too!

September 8, 2009

President Obama’s message to students

Filed under: Family Activities — Erin @ 4:31 pm

Today President Obama addressed students across the country with a speech that focused on the importance of education.  We strongly agree with many of the messages that the President imparted upon students such as:

“What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.”

If you have some time, please watch the full video of the speech included below:

September 3, 2009

Is there such a thing as a brain-enhancing video game?

Filed under: Schools and Learning,Technology in the Home — Erin @ 5:47 pm

Zoodles thinks so!

And according to new research released by Haier et al at Blue Planet Software, we’re not far from the truth.  A recent MSNBC article reports the findings as evidence that playing certain video games – in this case, Tetris – can actually enhance parts of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning.  More research is being done on what kinds of games can improve cognitive areas related to memory and spatial reasoning.

Picture 9We at Zoodles strongly believe that games have the ability to improve mental acuity, and not just in areas like memory and spatial reasoning.  During our many usability studies, we’ve seen incredibly rapid learning happen right before our eyes!  When kids are young, their brains are developing at such rapid rates that we can’t stress enough how important it is to continue stimulating them!  The important thing that many parents miss is that this kind of mental toning occurs best in a relaxed, engaging environment, where games form the perfect backdrop!

screenshot_sGames enable children to be challenged while also engaged, and to learn new things without even realizing it!  In the face of overly-difficult material, games have the ability to buffer frustration and increase motivation with a constant stream of clever game mechanics like new levels and rewards.  We believe the Zoodles browser provides this kind of learning environment for every child.

If you’re a parent and you have some fun brain-enhancing stories about your kids learning on Zoodles, we’d love to hear them!

And you know, stimulating brain games aren’t just for kids, they’re for adults too!  While many of the eight-year-old games on Zoodles are actually still ridiculously fun for us big kids at the office, we thought parents might like a trip to Lumos Labs for some “scientifically designed Brain Games” of their own.  Enjoy!

Memory Matrix Lost in Migration Raindrops Flexibility Game - Verbal Fluency

If you’re interested in learning more about the different parts of the brain, check out this neat interactive applet put together by MSNBC, New Roadmap to the Mind.

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