Kid-Proof the Web – Zoodles.com Review

 - by Mama Maintenance

 

Technology has completely redefined how our children play and learn. While there will always be good entertainment value to digging in the dirt and kicking a ball, most kids these days also know how to swipe their way around a touch screen, use a Wii controller, and navigate the internet with a mouse in search of fun. I’m certainly not above promoting these activites, either, as I’ve been known to stream Disney videos via You Tube in dressing rooms and use Angry Birds screen time as valuable errand-running negotiating currency.

As much as I marvel at the convenient entertainment and the educational value modern technology can provide, I don’t think I stand alone when I say that I think there can be too much of a good thing when it comes to accessing these resources. While keeping track of which sites are age appropriate for your kids and steering clear of unwanted content is important and difficult, listening to the incessant pleas of a game-obsessed child or dealing with a phone that is suddenly missing all its icons is just plain annoying. Enter: Zoodles. In a non-so-technical nutshell, Zoodles allows you to set customized limits on your children’s web access and activities while protecting the settings on your computer, phone, or tablet. By creating child-specific profiles, you enable Zoodles to pull age-appropriate content and activities from multiple sites that fit your parameters and create an online environment that you actually want your kids to be in.

In the past, I would bookmark various sites on my kids’ laptop… Starfall, PBS Kids, Disney, Nick Jr, etc. While I appreciated how these sites provided educational games and activities with the help from familiar characters, I often found that there were aspects of the websites that I found less desirable. I’ll never forget setting my daughter up on pbskids.org with a Super Why reading game, only to return and find her playing some ridiculous Boobah game with little characters that sounded like they farted every time you clicked your mouse on them. I was not amused. This was a far cry from my intended purpose of her screen time and was yet, just a click away, on the same website. Zoodles allows parents to quickly block specific characters by checking boxes in an alphabetical listing (goodbye Boobah and Sponge Bob!), control content (for example, no videos), and even give parents the ability to set limits to violence exposure.

I have voracious little readers in my home… While I seldom have to encourage them to pick up a book, I’ve noticed that they have a way of squirming out of anything that remotely speaks to the tune of math. Sadly, they must get this from me, since their father is a human calculator. What my kids don’t know, however, is that with the help of Zoodles, sneaky mommy is able to selectively promote specific subjects. That’s right, I can rig the selection of games offered to my kids… Brilliant, isn’t it? Using a simple click-and-slide user interface, Zoodles allows parents to easily adjust which specific subjects are promoted. Zoodles will apply this filter to it’s search criteria when selecting games and activities for your child and voila! It’s math time, without them even knowing,

Setting time limits on activities can also sometimes prove to be challenge for parents. Although our pint sized subjects eagerly agree to a 1-show contract when we turn on the TV, the expression of game-show shock and the explosion of whinegotiation (delightful package of whining and negotiation…) when we turn off the television is often inevitable. During these moments, the maddening dialogue in my mind rolls through, “We talked about this… You agreed to… You made your choice…”, but to no avail, I still end up looking like the mean, withholding mommy. Sigh. Through Zoodles, you can set customized daily play time limits for individual children, even providing the option to differentiate weekdays from weekends. When the time limit has been reached, Zoodles simply states the fact, automatically logs off, and tells the child to come back the next day. From my experience, the computer receives considerably less back-talk.

Beyond playing the role of digital media watch dog, Zoodles provides additional tools that encourage fun ways for your kids to stay connected to people. By giving the option to invite friends and family to join your profile, Zoodles gives your child the ability to easily send and receive video mail messages, proudly share masterpieces using Zoodles Art Studio, and experience having a story book read to them by a loved one from across the miles.

Best of all, Zoodles makes it simple for us parents. Using the quick and intuitive child-specific tabs on the parent login page, monitoring your child’s progress is a snap! If you’re the less proactive type (read: busy and forgetful, which is many of us…), activity summaries sent to you by email show exactly how much play time your child logged that week, broken down by subject.

One item of note is the requirement of your device’s ability to run Adobe Flash applications in order to run Zoodles games. Although this isn’t a problem for most devices, strained business relations between Apple and Adobe have left iOS devices without the ability to support Flash. iOS devices will, however, still support other Zoodles features, such as Zoodles Art Studio. Most Android devices give you the option to download an Adobe Flash application if it isn’t already factory installed. Check here to see if your device is Adobe Flash compatible.

Zoodles provides their basic application for free, but the Premium Membership gives you the added perks and levels of parental control for the reasonable price of $7.95/month, $39.95 for 6 months, or $59.95 for a year. Create and account today, and get a 14-day trial of the Premium Membership for free!

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