How much screen time is okay for a pre-K child? Expert opinions vary. Why not make that time both engaging and educational? Try these sites for (mostly) free online learning experiences.
Starfall.com isn't over-the-top with wild animation--and that's part of its charm. With non-branded characters, no ads and only occasional music (many game sites continually play repetitive tunes), Starfall still manages to hook kids with learning games that start at phonetics and counting and continue with math, reading, music and culture. Much of the huge site is free, so your child will likely not feel deprived of the subscription-only content for a while. And, if you feel the need, the $35 per year rate is reasonable for the enormous amount of content available.
ABCya.com provides games in each subject through fifth grade, plus Spanish language, holiday games and strategy games (aka "the fun ones"). Like Starfall.com, ABCya.com could provide a good supplement to preschool class learning. The tame banner ads aren't terribly intrusive and are child appropriate. But you can go ad-free for $6.99 a month.
At Funbrainjr.com, children can explore games, stories, printable pages and stickers, all sans ads. The offerings are pretty limited, but the cheery, non-branded characters and low-key games are well-suited to this age range. Its banner ads are unobtrusive. No narrator reads the stories, so you'll need to share this part of the site together.
A totally free site, PBSkids.org includes videos from its television shows and also numerous games featuring characters and scenarios from the programs. Children can choose by their favorite branded characters, game difficulty, or subject, including spelling, reading, math, animals, and healthy habits. But unless you're carefully monitoring what your child is doing, it's likely going to be episodes, which means more passive viewing than participation.
At Nickjr.com, the easy navigation makes it a snap for young users to find what they want. Like PBSkids.org, the site features no ads, but since branded characters and TV episodes populate the site as well, it's like the entire site is an ad for the medium's television shows.
While online learning games can provide fun stimulation for your little one, don't forget that the best way children learn is in "real life" with imagination-evoking toys (building bricks, modeling clay, pretend items), hearing and seeing books read (let them see the print you're reading), and coloring/crafting (both with books and kits to learn to follow directions and general supplies to develop creativity). Taking your children to new and interesting places also helps them learn. Welcome their questions and ask them open-ended questions instead of "yes/no" questions.