Friday, October 14, 2011

Best family and kids websites of 2011

Check out these five family and kids websites, chosen by Time Magazine as the best education websites of 2011:

Cafe Mom
According to CafeMom, the "Cafe" in its name stands for conversation, advice, friendship and entertainment. That may be a backronym, but it's also a good summary of the site's appeal. Most of what goes on here focuses on the conversation, advice and friendship part: moms helping moms using features such as a Q&A service and thousands of discussion groups on everything from money and finances to religion and spirituality. There's also a splash of entertainment, in the form of a celebrity gossip blog called The Stir, and some casual games.

Dear Photograph
Some of the Web's best sites consist of variations on one simple idea. In the case of Dear Photograph, that idea is taking a snapshot — usually one featuring one or more people and dating from the film-photography era — and holding it up against the original setting so that past and present blend into a new work of art. The images contributed by the site's readers are wonderfully evocative. Looking at the family photos of strangers was never so transfixing.

If you've never heard of Poptropica, chances are you're a grownup. An inventive megasite for kids with a wholesome and slightly educational bent, it features quests, games and puzzles set on 20 themed islands, including Shrink Ray Island, Wild West Island and ones based on the Wimpy Kid and Peanuts franchises. As many as 10 million kids explore Poptropica each month, but the site also aims to please parents. The chat feature, for instance, doesn't permit free-form conversation. Instead, members can select questions to ask one another from a collection of family-friendly choices.

What if Facebook felt less like a daily diary and more like an autobiography? It might resemble Proust, a new site that lets you record and share a lifetime's worth of memories. Proust prompts you with questions such as "How did you break the news of your engagement to your parents and parents-to-be?" and "What was your first boss like?" You respond with words, photos and videos, and choose whether they're private or public. Little by little, you reconstruct the story of your life — and if your family and friends do the same, you might learn new things about people you thought you knew well.

The daily articles at the National Center for Family Literacy's Wonderopolis are allegedly educational and supposedly aimed at kids. Don't let that fool you. They're just plain interesting, and make for addictive reading even for those of us who are, in theory, all grown up. For example, "How Does an Eraser Work?" doesn't just explain how erasers work — did you know they usually contain vegetable oil? — but also reveals how people removed pencil marks before Englishman Edward Naime invented the eraser in 1770. (They used rolled-up pieces of bread.)

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