There are so many different online gaming and virtual worlds available, that many parents are confused about which sites are safe. Taking it to the next level, if the site is safe in regards to content - the next issue is if the website is just "sugar" and addicting with no learning experiences involved. As parents, how do we allow our children to have some screen time that is just fun but also provide some with learning experiences? And if we find that solution, how do we get our kids to buy in?
My solution for my 6 year old twin boys seems easier then for my 10 year son. For my twins, they enjoy spending time on educational websites for their "screen" time. So while I have been able to engage my 6 year olds in educational websites, I have not been able to with my ten year old. He is very bright but feels that after he goes to school, does homework and outside sports then he is done for the day. He does not want to do additional activities that may be deemed *gasp* learning activities other then reading (which he loves).
The issue was that my fourth grade son (like most students) needs practice with math facts and other areas outside of schoolwork. My problem was that the "nagging" was not working. Paper workbooks and some of the educational sites for older kids did not engage him. I had a point system but was not consistent in carrying it out. My ten year old has limits on his screen time, but when he does have a few moments - he goes to game sites that have the word "addicting" in the name.
**Enter my opportunity to test out the beta of an online (educational) gaming site called SmaryCard for 3 - 6 graders**
I was given the opportunity to log onto the beta website for SmartyCard before heading to DEMO09 (where they were launching). So I decided to give the site the ultimate test and see if my rebel 10 year old son would engage.
Here is a the explanation of SmartyCard from their website:
"SmartyCard provides children grades 3-through-6 with bite-sized learning
activities in subjects such as reading, writing, math, social studies and science. Children earn
points that can be redeemed for their favorite play time rewards - toys, DVDs, video games,
books, iTunes downloads, Club Penguin™ and other virtual world subscriptions, and much more.
SmartyCard offers child-friendly, parent-approved learning activities available
from some of the world's most respected and popular education content providers, including
Learning.com, LearnStar and Ignite Learning. "
During my testing on one Sunday afternoon when my 10 year old was
allowed to have his screen time - he was using SmartyCard.com to
practice *gasp* math and spelling, excited to be earning points.
Here is an interview with Chris Carvalho, General Manager of SmartyCard (and father of 3 boys!) -using my Flip Mino:
Children can only sign up after their parents sign up and "activate" them. The point system is applied to the educational games - after the child gets 7 out of 10 right - they earn a specific amount of points based on the level of difficulty of the question. Hints and input are given to help the child learn as the go. Points are listed on the left side of the screen so children and parents can keep track of progress. Parent account has "Fund My Child's Account" - Add points, Change acct settings and buy a smarty card. From parent account you view "play history" and "purchase history" for all of your kid's accounts.
Children can only buy items if Parents have entered their credit card information into the account, and emails are sent after every purchase. SmartyCard vetted the list of reward items offered and the website is COPPA compliant. There is no cost to register and try out SmartyCard but unfunded accounts have limited access library of learning activities, and points earned with unfunded accounts cannot be redeemed for rewards. Points can be added to a free account for as little as $10.
If kids try to "game" the system and fake their parents email address
for signup - then they won't have access to redeem points (because no
credit card information would be entered).
The first question I had was "why should I give my child points that they can redeem for items to play an online game"? After I used SmartyCard, I realized that the points were providing the incentive for my son to participate in supplemental education. Because I already had a point system and my son was able to save up for things like iTunes cards or a RipStiK (which they happen to have in their reward list already) - I realized this would fit in with our current incentive program. Best yet, I was so frustrated trying to redeem iTunes cards - that just providing easy access to redeem those was a plus for me in itself!
Every family has different needs, but I found that the digital world is here to stay. Children interact with media rich environments on a daily basis - and it has become part of how their interact socially. I am a big supporter of parents educating themselves and their children on the digital world, make educated decisions for how and what websites your children interact with - then have fun. SmartyCard falls in the supplemental education, incentive and "have fun" boxes for me. I also appreciate the graphic rich environment that adds to the experience.
Listed below are some screen shots from SmartyCard and a link to the press release: