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source: Rick & Brenda Beerhorst

4 Tips for Family Computing

The following post is from Michelle of Mommy Misadventures:

4 Tips for Family Computing |
source: Rick & Brenda Beerhorst

Computers are a fixture in many families lives and kids are learning to use the computer for both learning and entertainment at increasingly younger ages. Rather than allowing your children to sequestered themselves away with a computer in their room, consider setting up a single computer for your family to use. A family computer is a wonderful way to encourage your kids to learn and use technology in a safe, controlled environment.

Use a desktop or all-in-one

I recommend using a desktop or an all-in-one computer over a laptop as a central family computer. Laptops are easily brought from room to room which is convenient but makes it more difficult to supervise your family’s usage.

Actively supervising your children while they use the Internet is essential to helping keep your child safe online. (Microsoft recommends that children under the age of 10 be supervised while using the Internet.) The placement of a  shared family computer should be in a central location, like a great room or media room so that parents can more easily monitor what their kids are doing.

If the idea of a bulky desktop in the great room for all to see makes you cringe, consider all-in-ones like the Apple iMac or the Dell Inspiron 2320 which are great computers with a sleek, pleasing to look at profiles.

Personalize it

Get kids excited about using the computer by encouraging them to make it their own. Create individual log-ins for each of your children and allow your kids to choose their icon and personalize their desktop however they want.

If the family computer is actually going to be mostly used by younger kids, invest in a child-friendly keyboard and mouse. I recommend the Crayola USB EZ Type Keyboard which has HUGE colorful keys, perfect for a small child. For a mouse, you may want to try a small mouse that can more easily fit in small hands, like this Chester Creek Tiny Mouse.

Secure it

While no software enabled firewall can substitute for parental supervision, the right family controls can help you create a safer environment for your child.

Both Microsoft Windows 7 and Apple Mac OS X have native family safety tools that let you do things like allowing/blocking access to websites, setting time limits and log-in times. (You can learn more about Microsoft Parental Controls here and Apple’s Parental Controls here.) There are a variety of third-party Internet monitoring tools available that have more powerful monitoring and blocking capabilities, including NetNanny and Norton Online Family.

Use a kid-friendly browser

While your standard browsers (IE, Firefox, Chrome, etc.) are fine for tweens and teens, families with school aged children or younger may want to take a look at some of the kids browsers out there. Unlike standard web browsers, where you can go ahead and enter the addresses of wherever you want to visit, browsers for younger kids allow you to connect to pre-approved kids websites. Kids browsers are designed with younger children in mind and are part activity center, part browser. They often feature easy to use interfaces, bright colors and offer kiosk-like, full-screen browsing.

KidZui is a Windows-based browser that allows kids to browse popular websites, search online and play kids games. All of the content on KidZui has been pre-screened by the KidZui editorial staff and also  by parents and teachers. KidZui is free to download and use.

Zoodles is a kids browser that includes educational games and activities. One of the features I particularly like about Zoodles is the ability to customize your child’s Playground to their age. It offers a set of Premium features as well including promoting particular skills, selecting activities and the ability to block particular content. (Love this feature – My three year old loves Spongebob; I can’t say I share her adoration.) Zoodles offers a free Basic membership which includes Premium features start at $5.95 per month with a 14 day free trial.

This is a an Adobe Air based browser (compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux, Android) with a fun, kid-friendly interface preloaded with a bunch of kid-friendly content. KIDO’Z main feature is its very powerful parental control, including exit control (kids cannot exit KIDO’Z without a password), usage statistics and multilingual support. KIDO’Z is free to download and use for 30 days after which it is subscription based, starting at $4.99 per month or a one time payment of $59.99 for a lifetime membership.

Do you use a family computer?  What are your favorite websites and kid-friendly applications?

Michelle Mista is an IT professional, freelance writer and blogger. A lifelong geek, she muses about motherhood at Mommy Misadventures. She is on the constant quest to balance life, work and geekery.