Zoodles Blog Learn and Play Every Day

December 7, 2010

Introducing Kid Mode for Google Chrome

We believe that every device a child interacts with should come with a Kid Mode… a simple, safe, fun way for kids to interact with age appropriate games and activities.  Today we are excited to announce that one of the most popular browsers on the web, Google Chrome, can now be put into Kid Mode!  So parents who use Google Chrome as their web browser can install our Kid Mode app from the Google Webstore.  Once installed there will be a simple icon that parents can click to put their browser into Kid Mode!

Here is a great video that highlights all the great features of our Chrome App:

We are looking forward to hearing about how we can improve this app so please be sure to send us feedback:  Support AT Zoodles.com


CEO & Co-founder of Zoodles

July 13, 2010

Online Safety for Children

Guest blog by Nathan Richardson, Founder, ComplexSearch.com

Children are gaining computer skills earlier and earlier because computers are such an 2855311492_5c1a6aea17integral part of our lives.  Computers are a great tool that allows children to reach out to new sources of knowledge, fun, and cultural experiences. But, it also leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and harm by computer sex offenders. It is easy to speak with strangers online and give out personal information, even if it’s unintentional. Online safety for children is a big concern for parents as technology grows and becomes an integral part of everyday life.

Children need to be aware that they could not only infect the computer with a virus and break the computer, but they could come into contact with child predators, thieves, and other such people that do not have good intentions. When young children start using the computer and gaining independence to use the computer on their own, parents may want to provide guidelines and safety precautions so these types of things do not happen.  There are many products, tips, and recommendations to help parents provide online safety for children. The tips here are just a fraction of the tools available for online safety for children.

One of the easiest and highly recommended tips is to keep the computer in a heavy traffic area, like the living room or kitchen. The computer should be located in the open so family members can easily see what the child is doing on the computer. Knowing that the parents and other family members can easily see what they are doing online, children will be more apt not to break the computer rules.

Parents should create a list of computer rules and post them at the computer area. This way, the children will know exactly what they can and can not do on the computer. The list could include things such as not giving out your email address, real name, street address, and phone number to people the child is chatting or instant messaging with, instant messaging restrictions such as who the children can talk to, specific times in which the computer can be accessed by the children or a time limit for how long they can stay on the computer. Parents may also want to post a specific list of allowable websites.

If the child is on a social networking site, the parent should be one of their “friends” to monitor the activity. The child can also be instructed not to accept any new friends without parental permission. The parent may also want to provide rules on game playing within the social networking sites as a lot of these games allow instant messaging and “chat room” type services.

Parents can check the history on the computer to see exactly what Internet sites the children have visited. If anything looks odd, ask them about it. Communication is key to online child safety.  Talk to your child about proper Internet etiquette. Teach them to be responsible on the computer without simply scaring them about predators and online thieves.

Watch your child’s expressions as they use the computer. If they look angry, frustrated, scared, or any other similar emotion, go find out why.  Online bullying is becoming too familiar.  Again, communication is key. Talk with your children about cyber bullying and how to handle it. This will put your child at an advantage so they do not succumb to such abuse.

There are many products available that parents can purchase to block or filter unwanted and inappropriate websites. These products will not allow access to certain websites based on criteria set up by the parent. The product will “review” the website prior to loading the page for view. If the site has content or restrictions based on parental settings, the page will not load or it may be added to a report for the parent to check out at their convenience. An Internet search will provide results of the many filtering products available.  Review them to find the best one that will fit your family’s needs.

Parents can download kid-oriented search engines. Browsers specifically geared toward kids can serve as a safe gateway between your computer and the Internet. These search engines work just like regular search engines, but provide special features to protect kids from inappropriate material. Some ways this works is that the search engine will only search within a certain group of approved sites, or withhold results from sites that are deemed inappropriate.  These tools are free.These browsers can filter out sexual content and otherwise inappropriate images and words, and are also designed to be easier for kids to use. Zoodles is an excellent choice. Here are some alternative sites if Zoodles, for some reason, does not meet your needs.

The Internet is a wonderful portal for learning, and children should be able to utilize the tools available to them, while being safe. Communication is the key to online safety for children. With these tips about online safety for children, you can be assured your children can experience the wonderful world of the Internet while being safe and responsible.

Author Byline

Nathan Richardson is the founder of ComplexSearch.com, a savings portal for deals and personal finance advice.

June 29, 2010

We think Shrek can do more for your children than sell Happy Meals

Contributed by Dave Young Director of Product Design

Contributed by Dave Young, Zoodles Director of Product Design

The characters that children love are powerful tools able to incite both positive and negative behavioral patterns in children. It isn’t hard to find examples of how cartoon characters can undermine a parent’s authority in deciding how to raise their children.  However the interests of the businesses that create this content and the families that consume it don’t have to be at odds.

It’s easy to understand the motives of each group at a high level. Content creators want to entertain your children so that they can influence your consumer habits, while Parents want to raise children that are happy, healthy, and smart.

Between these lines there is great opportunity to align the interests of both parties. The company that aligns itself with the interests of parents is the better company.

Raising happy children:

Everyone is thrilled to be working together to help parents raise happy children. If a character makes a child happy, the parent is happy and will buy branded merchandise which makes the company happy. For this reason there’s a ton companies out there competing to entertain your children. We should recognize this as an opportunity for parents to expect more from these brands and be more selective over which characters they allow into their homes.

Raising healthy children:

It’s really hard for busy parents to raise healthy children and frustrating when their efforts are at odds with some of the branded characters their children love.  The content creators, in the effort to get better brand exposure, are inadvertently harming your children by associating their brands with foods that lead to serious health problems such as obesity and diabetes.

This has been popping up a  lot in the news lately:

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is threatening to sue McDonald’s if they don’t stop distributing Happy Meal toys within 30 days. CSPI claims the use of Happy Meal toys is illegal and predatory and lures kids into unhealthy eating habits.

“McDonald’s is the stranger in the playground handing out candy to children. McDonald’s use of toys undercuts parental authority and exploits young children’s developmental immaturity — all this to induce children to prefer foods that may harm their health. It’s a creepy and predatory practice that warrants an injunction,” stated CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner in a letter to McDonald’s CEO.

The findings, reported online June 21 in Pediatrics, reflect on the food preferences of 4- to 6-year-old boys and girls who found foods tastier when the packaging bore the likenesses of beloved TV and movie characters.

“So the priority should be first to get these characters off of unhealthy foods,” she added. “And then as a goal ultimately to get them actually put on the packaging for healthy foods. But first we have to focus on dealing with the unhealthy options, because I don’t think slapping them on healthy foods while they’re still on unhealthy foods is going to work.”


Raising smart children:

Unfortunately both parents and teachers face some really tough challenges in these economic times. Budgets are being cut left and right in our schools and at home.

Zoodles is working really hard on a very creative solution that aligns the interests of content creators with those of parents and teachers. Content creators are a bit ahead of the curve trying to market the brands you buy offline by providing free games online (eg. Dora The Explorer Games, Blues Clues Games, Sid the Science Kids Games, Curious George Games, Lego Games etc etc). The internet is a great place for these brands to market themselves because parents and teachers have come to accept that while TV “rots the brain” computers offer new interactive educational opportunities.

However, parents and teachers need a solution that doesn’t require their constant supervision. They’re afraid of their children accidentally deleting files or navigating to content that’s inappropriate or too advanced for them to play independently. They’re afraid of these things because they happen all the time.  Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome are all designed for adults and are too complicated for children to use on their own.  Parents can’t Google to find the best games for their children because Google’s search engine doesn’t understand the ways in which their child is currently developing or the implications of their child’s special needs. Google doesn’t know how to rank search results for your child based on the state and national educational standards. Even when parents leave their children alone on reputable childrens sites, their children are exposed to images and video advertisements for Viagra, the Playboy Bunnies, and violent video games that, thanks to these advertisements, are only a click away.

This is the reason why Mark Williamson founded Zoodles, and we have something really great to offer. Our service is designed to be simple and easy to use for both parents and children. All parents have to do is enter in their child’s birthdate and we help you select the best content for their age, making sure that all the games they play are both fun and educational.  As your child gets older, Zoodles adjusts the games we recommend to them to help them develop the skills that they are currently learning. We have an educational team that helps us select the best of Nick Jr Games, PBS Kids Games, Disney Games, and National Geographic Kids Games. We also have games from some sites you probably haven’t thought to visit before, including the best of NASA Kids Games, StarFall Games, American Girl Games, Fact Monster Games, Nobel Prize Educational Kids Games etc etc  (the list goes on and on).

Kids are happy because they are having fun. Parents are happy because their children are learning while playing independently. Content providers have the opportunity to build stronger relationships with young families. Best of all, everything I just mentioned is free!   :D

Zoodles also offers some great premium features for parents that want to have a more proactive role in their child’s development.  We help parents block ads, set time limits, adjust violence filters, and block the brands they might be getting sick of (eg Barney Games).  Parents can even choose to promote educational subjects to help their child spend more time playing fun math games or fun reading games.

Parents and Teachers are excited that they can now review the educational merits of the games and brands that are available online. Content providers for the first time are able to quickly identify what skill sets their target demographic needs help learning and quickly assess the strengths and weaknesses of their competition in that space.

We think Shrek can do a lot more for your children than sell Happy Meals.

There’s a huge opportunity ahead of us for brands to align with the interests of both parents and teachers. With so many brands to choose from, parents should have more control over which brands they welcome into their home, based on the quality of content coming from these characters.

June 25, 2010

Using Your Garden to Grow Minds


Guest blog by Stephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D.

You can use your garden to grow minds as well as food.  The very things that are necessary to make a garden grow food, flowers, and hay can also be used to educate children in science and math, reading, following directions, nutrition, and cooking.  Even something as mundane as pulling weeds can involve lessons in taxonomy and composting.

Taxonomy lessons

For example, your child can sort the weeds into piles of similar plants.  A simple guide to weeds is not very expensive and usually has big pictures for easy identification.  Using the shapes of the leaves, color of the flowers, and type of stems, the child can work to identify the type of weed.  This can lead into a discussion about the life cycle of a plant and why some are useful in the garden and others are not.  The same plants that are pests in the garden might be grown in a pasture.


After the weeds are identified, you and your child can work on a simple compost pile.  If you have 2548355070_ec3ea13411hoofed animals, you have a source of manure.  If not, kitchen scraps that are not from meat or fat can be used.  Layers of weeds and manure or scraps can be made, or laid on an existing compost pile.  The child can have a small one that he or she can turn and monitor until it becomes rich compost.  This compost can then be returned to the garden so the cycle can start again.

Soil test

Check with your local Extension Office for the best soil test kits (they are inexpensive and sometimes even free!).  A soil test can be used for several lessons.  Start with elements and which ones are important in growing plants. Move on to how those elements get into soil, and how soil is formed.  A hands on lesson can involve the gathering of the soil needed for the test.  Shovel a little dirt from five or six sites and allow the child to mix it with his or her hands.  Then let them pack the soil into the sample bag.

Plant circulation systems

While you are waiting for the results, which will take about two weeks, you can cover photosynthesis and how plants take up water and nutrients from the soil.  Roots need food, so the plant’s circulatory system, a simple one, can come next.  Finally, you can discuss why plants are green and go over chlorophyll.

Soil test results

When the soil test results come back, it is time for a little math.  Usually, for lawns, the results are expressed in Soilpounds of element per 1,000 square feet.  Fertilizer usually comes in 40 pound sacks that only have a percentage of the element in them, with the rest being carrier.  You can cover fractions and multiplication while figuring out how much of the bag to spread to meet the recommendations.  You can go to the Tulsa Master Gardeners website and find calculators to make this easier for you and smaller children.

If these topics have wet your interest, there are lots more where they came from.  In fact, there are two years of curriculum in science, math, literature, and various other topics available from the United States for the cost of the books.  Children who complete the curriculum may be certified as Junior Master Gardeners. It is possible to teach much more than where food comes from if even a small spot is under cultivation.

Author Byline

StephStephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D.  is a master gardener, photographer, and writer in Texas.  You can see her photographs and read her work at http://blog.stephaniesuesansmith.com.

June 14, 2010

7 fun and frugal summertime activities

Filed under: Family Activities — Tags: , , , , , , , — Erin @ 10:18 am

Contributed by Danae G.

Contributed by Danae G. Zoodles Marketing Team

Wondering what to do with your children this summer that won’t break the bank (they can’t play Zoodles all day now that we’ve added our play timer!)? Creativity and advanced planning are your best bets for building fun family memories that you can enjoy, guilt-free.

Visit the library.

libraryThe library is not what it used to be! But they’re still completely free. They have kiddie computers, child soft seating, and baskets of toys to encourage free play. Children have their own DVD section, books on tape (great for car rides), and story time is quickly being rivaled by the library’s free summer reading program. This is an excellent program that gets kids really excited about reading books (they can even win prizes!). This summer my local library’s having Rubber Band Car Races, a puppeteer show, and at some point, a fireworks display. All really fun stuff that I wouldn’t have thought would be available through a library.

Dollar movies.

Check with your nearby theaters to see if they offer summer movie clubs. This typically means you pay a reduced cost if you take the kids to a movie during the week. No, you’re not going to see Disney’s latest release, but they usually show pretty good children’s movies that most kids will enjoy. Word to the wise, if you don’t want to spend all that you just saved at the concession stand, pack some snacks to enjoy once you are inside the movies.

Turn on the sprinklers.

Tsprinklershis is one of the best ways to cool off when it’s hot out! Delay the sprinklers so they come on later in the morning than usual. Kids love getting wet and will be entertained for hours (assuming your local water supply and water bill allows!). Besides watering the grass, there is really no clean up like you would have if you pulled out the kiddie pool. And I don’t know about you, but I like NO CLEAN UP!

Explore your neighborhood.

When my kids were little we walked around the block almost everyday. Granted, they are likely to say “that sounds boring”, but once they’re on the walk, they usually change their minds. When you’re at the library, pick up a book on edible plants and trees so when you go on your walk, the kids can try and identify what they could live on if they were “lost in the forest.”

Set up a lemonade stand.

lemonadeI just love the entrepreneurship lessons involved in this one! Loan the kids some “seed money” for supplies. Take them to the store and have them pick up the necessities like cups, lemons, and sugar. A powdered mix is fine but it’s a lot more expensive, less authentic, and not nearly as fun to make. Whether the kids are inside (preparing the world’s best lemonade) or outside, remember to have an adult with them at all times. And not just because they tend to drink up the profits!

Check out local museums.

There are probably several museums nearby that you’ve never heard of before. And most of them are free.  Do a search on Google or post a question on your Facebook and let local friends and family share their favorite spots. Spending time together as a family and learning about new things is a wonderful combination any time of year. Plus, if you walk the kids around long enough, they are likely to fall asleep in the car on the ride home!

Smores and backyard camping.

smoresWhat kid doesn’t like building a fire after dark and roasting marshmallows? This, in and of itself, makes for a fun and exciting evening any day of the week. But why stop there? Dust off your tent, unroll those sleeping bags, and sleep under the stars to create an unforgettable experience for children of all ages. No need to pack the car, drive for 2 hours, or make reservations a year in advance. Just open your back door! Build a campfire, tell silly stories, and play flashlight tag. Don’t forget your cell phone (no reception problems here!). There are some great constellation apps available that are sure to thrill even the finickiest of children. It’s amazing what we can teach our kids these days, right from the comfort of our very own backyards.

backyardDo you have any ideas to share? Please leave us a comment, We’d love to hear from you! And remember, the kids will be off to college (or at least back in school) before you know it. Make the most of the short time you have with them by building fun family memories that can be cherish for years to come.

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