With a lot of kids’ time so planned out these days, with their fun and learning both quite regimented, it is important to let them just be free to explore interests on their own. There are lots of ways to do this off-line, but some free form places exist online as well.
One of my kids’ very favorite websites is Poisson Rouge. Most of the site is aimed at young children, perhaps ages eight and under, though that’s just my estimate. Once your child is old enough to just barely work a mouse, set them free on the site. There are no directions to read; it is all discovery play and learning. And it’s free.
Kids can wander through the alphabet, play with colors, phonics, opposites, puzzles, dot to dots, make and listen to music, play games, appreciate and make art, learn about optical illusions, tell time, do some coloring in, learn constellations and play with many other activities. There are even activities to help kids practice using a mouse. Most of the few words on the site seem to be in French, with a few in Spanish and a few in English. Other smaller bits are even in Greek and Chinese. But since language isn’t a big part of playing on the site, not knowing French never gets in the way of the fun.
One of the newest pages that Poisson Rouge has added is for Christmas. From the main page, just click on the little potted tree. You can decorate several Christmas trees and have little men sing and play instruments for you.
It takes a long while to try out everything at Poisson Rouge. It’s like having a set of over 200 virtual toys. A lot of trial and error and intuitive clicking will keep your kids happily occupied for a long time. Clicking on some toys on the main page bring you to one activity. Clicking on others will take you to a screen with a whole other set of things from which to choose.
If the grownup in you just can’t stand not knowing how things work ahead of time, or if your child just can’t figure out what he or she is supposed to do on a certain page, there is a user guide to step you through. But remember, use this as a last resort. See what your kids can come up with first.
Helpful Tip: Always click on the red fish to get back to the main screen.
The website also has an area for slightly older kids called Encyclopedia Interactica. It also has mostly wordless discovery play, but the dozens of activities are more advanced. My eight year old daughter prefers this part of the site. “It’s educational! They have multiplication!” she says. In addition to multiplication, they also have airplane wings, angles and protractors, planetary motion, music, teeth, solar eclipses, addition and subtraction, gear ratios, constellations, the human body, rockets, the life cycle of a butterfly, temperature, ocean currents, solar power and more.
There is also a section called Poisson Rouge TV, which has little fun videos to watch starring many of the toys in the other parts of the site.
To support Poisson Rouge in their continued efforts to offer quality activities for kids, consider donating some money, or buying something from their shop. Prices are in euros. (This is a completely unpaid/uncompensated message.)
I can not say enough great things about this site. Ever since we discovered it a couple of years ago, my kids have been learning and playing there regularly. It is a great fit for geeky kids especially, since they tend to try things to see what happens, and to figure things out themselves. Poisson Rouge is perfect for that. And new activities are constantly being added. They have even made one of the games into an iPhone application.
Wired: Poisson Rouge offers hours and hours of exploratory fun for young kids complete with colorful fun screens and educational content.