Zoodles Blog Learn and Play Every Day

July 21, 2010

How to make your iPhone kid friendly

Contributed By Ginny Haynies Zoodles Marketing Team

Contributed By Ginny Haynies Zoodles Marketing Team

According to reports, there are an estimated 40 million plus iPhones in circulation and 4.8 million Android devices activated per quarter. In addition, more than 3 million iPads were sold before July 1st. The sales only continue to grow and as the numbers increase so do the number of children with easy access to the Internet. With these devices comes the introduction of mobile applications for our children. As of September 2009, iPhone and Android users were downloading an average of 10 apps per month and iPod Touch owners at 18 apps per month. (http://blog.7touchgroup.com/tag/how-many-apps-sold-per-user/) A quick count of my own iPhone reveals 50+ applications with a large percentage of them being games, both fun and educational for my children.

According to Education.com there are currently over 3,400 education apps available for download at the iTunes store, with a large number of them targeted for children between the ages of two and five. They note that the top selling iPhone education app continues to be Wheels on the Bus and that “13 of the 20 top paid apps in this area are clearly child-directed.” (http://www.education.com/magazine/article/smartphones-kids) A quick search of the Android marketplace reveals the same trend occurring there. The preschool and young child market is clearly a hot topic and a market that is being heavily targeted.

Two great parent resources for finding great Smart Phone applications for your children are theiphonemom.com and momswithapps.com. While the iphonemom focuses more on iPhone/iPad applications, momswithapps also features Android applications. Their reviews and suggestions often lead you to some fantastic applications. While using discretion in selecting which mobile applications you choose to install on your device, you might also implement the 3 C’s approach to evaluating media for children as suggested by Lisa Guernsey, Director at the Early Education Initiative:

* Content – What is the basic premise of the app? How is it designed? Is it research based? Is it age appropriate? Does it come from a trusted source such as Sesame Workshop? There are a few great resources to help parents evaluate content, such as Common Sense Media and Children’s Technology Review.

* Context – Who is interacting with the child? How do parents talk about what’s on the screen? Is the child learning through a game, then applying that in another activity? Is the child telling stories about what he or she has experienced?

* Child – How much stimulation can this child take? What types of media trigger the most curious questions, playful reenactments, engagement and joy? What is she missing out on by spending time on the device – is she still exercising, socializing, and doing her schoolwork?

Apple reports that more than 1.7 million iPhone 4 phones were sold in the first week and that more than 75% of the devices sold were upgrades for existing customers. Which leads one to wonder: what is being done with the old phones? While many may be donated or resold, another use is to modify a few settings on your older model iPhone and let them function as an iPod Touch. Many of the current application offerings rival those of other popular hand held gaming systems and are quickly becoming more popular among elementary age children.

These same settings and suggestions are also easily applied to your own iPhone, iTouch, or iPad and will allow for some added security and protection if you choose to allow your child to play with your phone or device. These are all located under Settings -> General -> Restrictions.

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The first step is to apply a passcode that you will remember, but your child does not know so that you can keep the restrictions in place.

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Then you will see a list of choices of things you can either disable or set limitations to restrict. If you choose to use an alternate web browser application such as Mobicip or SafeEyes on your mobile device you will want to disable Safari so that you children will not get an unfiltered web browser. I also suggest you turn off YouTube. This will take away the button for YouTube, however, you would still be able to watch videos you have direct links to and through child safe video filters. This will keep little hands from navigating into Lady Gaga’s most recent music video accidentally. I also highly suggest you turn off In-App purchases. This will prevent your child from accidentally upgrading an application or purchasing something from within an application that they did not understand. Also located under settings are options for Music, Movie, App, and Podcast age ratings. Obviously the level that you choose to put these settings at would depend on if the device is being used by you primarily or if you are turning it into a dedicated child safe device.

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As always the best advice is to closely watch your little one, but these precautions and settings can help to make your iProduct a bit more child-safe.

March 31, 2010

Celebrating National Nutrition Month!

Filed under: Parental Controls,Schools and Learning — Erin @ 5:27 pm

Picture 62Did you know that March was National Nutrition Month?  Thanks to recent efforts by the First Lady, health and nutrition have become major talking points in schools and homes around the country.  As one of the biggest advocates for improved fitness and nutrition education, Michelle Obama has inspired a wave of national health campaigns, including Let’s Move, Team Nutrition by the USDA, and Apps for Healthy Kids.

Apps for Health Kids

Apps for Healthy Kids is a fantastic competition that encourages content developers to make quality health games for kids.  We say, it’s about time!  The deadline to enter is June 30, and you can read more about the guidelines here.  If you do end up submitting something, be sure to let us know so we can feature your game!

Zoodles wanted to take part in the movement too, so throughout the month, we’ve been roaming the interwebs hunting for the best health games out there.  Everything good that we found was then served up to your unwitting children!  Hopefully they’ve been enjoying the *fruits* of our labor, and maybe even shared some of the things they’ve learned!  (For instance, did you know that lime jello doesn’t actually contain lime?  Of course you did.  But did your kids?  Hmm? Hmm?)

Well if you want a taste of what your kids have been playing, check out some of our favorite dishes:


If you thought this was cool, stay tuned for what happens in April. It’s National Poetry Month!

January 28, 2010

Gain more control with Zoodles violence filtering

Filed under: Parental Controls,Zoodles Blog — Erin @ 8:21 am

We’ve been proud of features in the past, but the latest feature we’re here to announce truly breaks new ground:  Zoodles violence filtering.

Here’s how it works:

1)  You read how we rate the games.


2)  You choose what rating level is right for your child.


3) We take care of the rest.

Zoodles will only include games in your child’s Toybox that respect your settings.


Why we built it

If you do a Google search for “violence filter,” you’ll quickly realize what a huge need there’s been for something like this.  A combination of all the filters out there will probably get you something that filters gambling sites, pornography, adware, pop-ups, chatrooms, and even social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace.  All this and more, but not violence.  And even if, after hours of searching, you found one, it would predictably be just like the others – essentially a big on-off switch.  With issues like gambling and pornography, an on-off switch probably makes sense.  But with violence, there are wildly varying opinions on what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate for children of different ages.

It comes down to this.  Parents have preferences when it comes to the media that their children consume, whether it’s their book at bedtime, the show on TV, or their favorite site online.  When it comes to movies, parents have no choice but to rely on the G-PG-PG-13 rating system developed by the Motion Picture Association.  It’s not great, but it’s something.  It’s a universal standard that all shows and movies are held accountable to.

There’s no equivalent universal rating system for your child’s media content online.  So how can a parent feel confident that their children are safe? The answer is, they don’t.  They let their kids go online, but with the deep, nagging fear (only worsening as their kids grow older) that something will slip through –  that new content will be put on the site, or that their kids will wander somewhere new, somewhere they don’t belong.  Even the parents who do their fair share of homework screening sites ultimately have to take a leap of faith about what brands they can trust, and can only hope that they live up to their kid-friendly promises.

Here at Zoodles we’ve taken it upon ourselves to be the place online you can trust.  Any time we add content to Zoodles, we take into consideration its educational value, its entertainment value, and its appropriateness for children.  But even a team of thousands would fall short in knowing your child as well as you do.  Parents know best.  That’s why we not only pre-screen all our content and restrict your child to these pre-approved sites, but we give you sublime control over what parts of this content make it through to your child.  The violence filter is one more step in this direction.  The way it’s been designed is simple:  We tell you how we rate the games, and you choose what rating level you think is appropriate for your child.  We take care of the rest.

To try the violence filter out for yourself, visit the Parent Dashboard under Education and Parental Controls. As always, let us know what you think!

January 20, 2010

Kids on the computer all day? Set time limits with Zoodles!

Filed under: Parental Controls,Technology in the Home,Zoodles Blog — Erin @ 12:28 am

In an earlier post, we talked about all the ways that parents set screen time limits at home.  Whether they’re using the DVR to dole out episodes of Dora, or printing out sticker charts to make their kids play outside, different parents have different ways of handling their desire to limit the amount of media their children consume.

Introducing the Zoodles Play Timer!

That is why we’re pleased to present the Zoodles Play Timer,  a new feature that will help parents set the time limits they want, without the hassle of maintaining them or explaining and reexplaining them to their ever-desirous kids.

Picture 20With the Zoodles play timer, you can limit your child’s time online without having to constantly step in and feel like the bad guy.  Zoodles does all the negotiating for you – as soon as your child’s time on Zoodles runs out, a big blue clock will appear signaling their time is up.  The browser stays locked in full-screen mode, so your child can’t wander somewhere else online or click around on the computer.  After a minute or so, they’ll be brought back to the original family log-in screen, so the brother or sister who’s been patiently waiting in the wings can get a turn!

Of course, no kid likes to be cut off cold turkey, so we’ve built in some friendly purple reminders that time is winding down.   Picture 24With 10 minute, 5 minute, and 2 minute warnings, Zoodles eases your child off the computer and on to a new activity without the tantrum.  The wind-down process is important for every child to learn, and all parents know how painful this process can be if it’s not done artfully!

Picture 25You can set time limits in half hour increments anywhere from half an hour a day to 8 hours a day, and you can set them differently based on whether it’s a weekday, or a weekend.  What’s more, each of your children have their own unique play timer settings, so you can limit them differently based on their individual play patterns!

We hope that you’ll enjoy this new feature, and all the ways that it strives to make your life easier!  As always, please let us know what you think once you’ve gotten a chance to try it out!

November 10, 2009

Violence in Children’s Media

Filed under: Parental Controls — Erin @ 11:34 pm

Last night Abbie, my 5 year old daughter, got out of bed and told my wife & I that she was too scared to fall asleep.  When we asked why she said she was afraid of robbers breaking through her window and that they would have guns.  We were shocked that these thoughts were in her mind, and upon further questioning we found the following illustrations in a book entitled “Pinkerton, Behave!


Robber climbing through a window


Robber holding a gun to the head of the person in the bed!


Robber pointing the gun toward the person in bed & a child!

Needless to say my wife and I were shocked and after comforting Abbie to get her back to sleep we talked about how we trusted the book because it came from her school library.  We didn’t “screen” the book, and if only an adult had screened the book they wouldn’t have let a kindergarten child take it home.

This is the very reason why we at Zoodles have trained education & content experts personally review all material that is entered into Zoodles.  I never thought I would feel more safe with the content my child plays with online than I would with the books she would bring home from the library, but I am proud of our Zoodles team for giving me that piece of mind as a parent!

October 14, 2009

How to Set Good Screen Time Limits for Kids

Printable Screen Time ChartSince Zoodles was launched, we’ve had the chance to talk to hundreds of parents about how they handle screen time in their home. Some parents have different rules for watching TV than for playing on the computer, or for TV shows versus DVDs.  Some parents regulate screen time based on their child’s age, the time of day, or the day of the week.  Some allow their kids to watch two hours a day, some set a timer, others give their kids free reign.  Many times the TV or the computer is used as a reward for good behavior, strong report cards, or well-performed chores.

How do you control screen time at home?

If you have any tips on regulating screen time at home, share them here!

We did some research on what Common Sense Media recommends for setting screen time limits, and these are the suggestions that we found:

  1. Provide distractions.
  2. Practice togetherness.
  3. Do activities.
  4. Delegate chores.
  5. Schedule play dates.
  6. Grant privileges.
  7. Encourage creativity.

To read about each of those tips in more detail, be sure to visit the Common Sense Media website!

Does it really matter what they watch?

Of course!  We see it as both a parent’s responsibility, as well as Zoodles’ responsibility, to be extremely careful in the types of media we expose kids to.  It’s important to remember that children are affected by media differently depending on what stage of development they’re in.    For instance, preschoolers love songs and rhymes, and can be influenced heavily by the music they hear on the radio or that their parents play.

They also have trouble separating make believe from reality, and commonly imitate behavior they see.  This makes them particularly susceptible to the language and behavior they see on TV, even on educational shows from channels like PBS, Disney, and Nickelodeon. As they grow into kindergartners,  their love of humor takes off exponentially, and they continually experiment with new words and new ways of expressing themselves.  Even so, they are still surprisingly vulnerable to misunderstanding the intent of commercials or the difference between what’s real and what’s not.

With more age, a child’s freedom only increases, and kids by this time should understand for themselves the value of screen time limits, have the discipline to limit how much they watch on their own, and learn to differentiate between content that’s appropriate and inappropriate for them.

This is why it’s important to not only implement good screen time limits for you and your family, but to engage with your children in conversations about what it means to be a smart media consumer.  To do our part here at Zoodles, we are always taking careful steps to not only monitor the educational value of our content, but the level of violence involved, the presence of advertising, and the overall age-appropriateness of the content.

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!

August 18, 2009

Parents Know Best

Filed under: Parental Controls,Personal Stories — Erin @ 2:16 pm

There’s no shortage of parenting methods and tools available to parents.  My first real experience with “parenting methods” came when Abbie was a baby and we were trying to figure out how we wanted to handle the stressful problem of getting her to sleep through the night.  While often marketed as “one size fits all solutions”, we found that these approaches didn’t work for us for a variety of reasons.  So we researched all the methods, talked to other parents and then selected the approaches that we thought were best for our specific situation.  Ultimately this approach resulted in Abbie sleeping through the night and Tara and I feeling like we did what was best for our child and for us as parents.  What this experience reinforced for me is that every child and family is unique and that what worked for other families may or may not work for us.  The old saying “a parent knows best” proved to be true.

The “parents know best” philosophy drives our approach to building many of our features for parents.  Some parents have strong feelings about the branded characters they want their children to interact with, while others have strong feelings about the type of activities that their child can do online.  An important part of the Zoodles offering are the parental controls we provide to parents that allow them to customize their child’s experience.  Here is a brief overview of the parental control features inside of Zoodles:

Promoting Educational Subjects – We have a team of Stanford-educated educational experts that hand curate the content we offer in our “virtual toybox.”  Part of the process of adding a game to our system is evaluating the educational value of an online game / activity. Since we know what concepts are taught in every game / activity parents can promote games from a specific subject area in their child’s toybox.  All you have to do is adjust the sliders in our Education & Parental Controls section of the parent dashboard:

Zoodles Educational Controls Math and Reading

Blocking Websites, Characters and Games – Every family makes their own decisions about the characters and websites their child is allowed to engage with.  For example, we don’t allow Abbie or Samantha to play with SpongeBob SquarePants.  SpongeBob is just one of the many branded characters we have decided that we don’t want our children engaging with.  We know of many parents who have an aversion to some of our favorite characters (Dora the Explorer, Sid the Science Kid, etc.).  Again, every family is unique, so Zoodles allows parents to block exactly the content they don’t want their child to engage in.  You can block an entire website, block a specific branded character, or even block a specific game that you don’t want your child to play with.  Here is what the interface looks like today to make this simple for you:

Block websites

Block Shows

Block Games

Restricting Types of Content – I have had the pleasure of talking with dozens (if not hundreds) of parents about the role that the computer plays in the life of their family.  One interesting trend has been that many Zoodles users are using Zoodles as a replacement for the TV.  Parents love the fact that the content is engaging, safe, and educational.  Many parents who want to replace “TV time” with “Zoodles time” enjoy the ability to customize what types of content their child can play with (e.g. – block all video content).  Here is what the interface looks like to easily remove or add different types of content to Zoodles:

Content Type Access

In keeping with our “parents know best,” please let us know how you would like to customize your child’s experience by leaving us a comment or sending us an email:  support@zoodles.com

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