By Guest Blogger Kelly Gunzenhauser
The last thing you might want your kids to do right now is have more screen time! But during the pandemic, my teenagers and I learned that there are some fun, creative things to do on the Internet – together! You don’t need an iPad or a game console for these activities. Next time it rains and your kid begs for screen time, here are some options you can play with together.
Little Alchemy/Little Alchemy 2
Sites: littlealchemy.com and littlealchemy2.com
Description: On both of these sites, you start with earth, air, fire, water. You simply drag and stack the icons to create new things. For example, combine earth and water to make mud. Combine water and more water until you get ocean. Both games have a sense of humor. In LA1 you can make Yoda and wizard, while in LA2 you can make cyborg and ninja. Both sites will hold onto previous sessions so you don’t have to start over each time.
Keep in Mind: Occasionally you may hit a roadblock where you can’t find anything new to make. When this happens, search for Little Alchemy hints for help!
Description: Geoguessr brought my teenager into my home office repeatedly to play with me—that’s how I know the subscription to play is totally worth it! (I paid an annual fee that does not automatically reup, and that was less than $15.) Geoguessr works like many other online game platforms in that you have a profile and you can compete against yourself or others. The object of all of the games is to figure out where in the world you are, using real Google Street Maps through the app. You can play Battle Royale (Right Country or Closest Guess versions), try to build the longest city streak or country streak, or simply explore different maps (US, World, Continent, etc.) for fun. You can also make your own maps for others to play with.
Keep in Mind: Since Geoguessr uses Google Maps, you need a good computer with a fast processor to run this smoothly.
Description: This is a very simple videogame; all you have to do is type in a nickname and play, unless you want to choose a fancier “skin.” You are a snake, and you grow by eating shiny, floating orbs. The object is to get as big as possible. There are other snakes in the “room,” and if one of them skims against your head, you will die/dissolve into these little orbs. So, the way to grow and stay alive is to avoid letting other snakes touch your head!
Keep in mind: Some players aggressively go after other snakes, so a good trick is to coil around your own head as you get larger. Oh, and watch out—the nicknames players choose for their snakes can be a little rude.
Description: Google Earth can do SO MANY cool things. I learned about it while getting Google certified last year. Here are two of my favorites. One is the drag-and-drop. Grab the little person icon in the bottom right corner, drag it to the Earth, and let go. It will drop down and show a photo of the closest place it can to where you dropped it—sometimes right on the location. To get to my other favorite activity (games), click on the ship’s wheel on the left to bring up the Voyager section, then click on Games at the bottom of the title page. You can play games about animal sounds, holiday traditions, food origins, or world architecture. Older kids will enjoy exploring the site on their own, while younger ones may need support, especially with the games that require reading.
Keep in Mind: Google Earth only works well using the Google Chrome browser.
Baby Name Voyager
Description: I have always been fascinated with baby names. This site would have fascinated me as a kid so I thought I would include it here. Type in any name in the space provided and you can see a graph over time of that name’s popularity in the United States.
Keep in Mind: There is also a graph called Name Mapper that is currently under construction, but it shows name trends by state.
Cool Math Games
Description: When I asked my teens to contribute to this article, both of them said, “Cool Math Games.” When I asked why, they said it was what kids did in school at indoor recess, or at the end of the day waiting for buses. There are dozens of games to explore. There are other game-collective sites like this one, but I chose it because it’s the first thing my own kids recommended.
Keep in Mind: Some parent reviews state that these games don’t have much to do with math, and complain that ads frequently pop up.
Live Wildlife Camera Streams
Site: Visit the following links…
~ Otters at Monterey Bay Aquarium
~ eagles.org/what-we-do/educate/live-hd-nest-cams – A collection of wild and captive bald eagle nest cams, sponsored by the American Eagle Foundation. These are more active in the later winter/early spring when eggs are hatching.)
~ explore.org/livecams – This amazing site connects to a whole collection of live wild cams, as well as some farm and rescue animal cams.)
Description: One of the things I did to keep our students busy online during the shutdown of 2020 was post live animal camera links as a treat. Here are some of my favorites, both at zoos and in the wild.
Keep in Mind: Animals caught on camera will do what animals do, including pooping, killing to eat, mating, and giving birth! I have yet to see most of these but it will happen!
Create a Storybook
Description: Click on the blue Create a Storybook tab to create your own online book! It’s so user-friendly and works well for all ages. Here is a great tutorial.
Keep in Mind: To save books you do need to make an account. Also, I don’t think there is an erase option for the drawing tool!
What Lives in the Ocean?
Description: Scroll down to see what lives where in the ocean!
Keep in Mind: After a bit it gets darker and darker, with less and less life but still interesting things to find, like weird deep sea animals, the deepest-diving human on record, and eventually, the unimaginable bottom of the Mariana Trench.
Google Arts and Culture
Description: This visual art-focused site is my most recent discovery. I went straight for the Play link at the top and discovered you can “color” famous works of art with Art Coloring Book, or put together a virtual jigsaw. There’s also a game called What Came First? that challenges you to put events and works of art in chronological order. (It’s HARD!)
Keep in Mind: The Explore button gives you access to high-def and 360° cameras to explore paintings and exhibits. For example, it’s fun to zoom into the Expressionist paintings and see the details.
Obviously, I have just scratched the surface here of all the amazing things you can do online. Do you have any favorite, kid-or teen-friendly online activities to share? Leave them in the comments below!
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