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As technology has allowed the format of gaming to evolve, with portable devices replacing cumbersome board games, the popularity of games has likewise continued to rise among all ages. However, as with all forms of online interaction, virtual gaming brings with it a number of risks particularly harmful to children, whose inexperience makes them less discriminate regarding the websites they use. Such risks are financial (e.g. accidentally making in-game purchases with real money), electronic (e.g. the spread of malware) and even personal (e.g. befriending strangers on Facebook in order to receive in-game benefits and consequently risking exposure of identifying details).

Fortunately, there are steps parents can take to protect their children. In addition to putting parental locks on devices, removing credit card details from app stores and talking to their children about online safety, they can direct their children towards fun, even educational, games provided by trusted developers.

The best of educational games

Leapfrog offers informative games designed to instruct and test children aged between 4 and 10 on various topics, including multiplication, dental hygiene and physics. The BBC also offers games for children and young adults aged between 4 and 18, with subjects including humanities, science and languages.

The best of internet awareness games

PBS is behind Webonauts Academy, a space-themed training program advising children on the basics of internet safety. Children may then like to test their knowledge with Quia’s Internet Safety Hangman or AT&T’s Safety Land, a question-and-answer game based on spam messages, password protection and unexpected attachments. Scams are also addressed in Anti-Phishing Phil, helping children recognise suspicious URLs, for which Wombat Security offers an online games free trial.

The best of fun games

Primarily recreational games which complement children’s television shows or act as standalone features are provided by CBBC, Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network. While these games are not traditionally educational, users are likely to advance their logic, perception and spatial awareness skills, making these games instructive in their own right.

When looking for free online games for children, parents should choose websites which are affiliated with well-known providers (e.g. Disney, NASA) and monitor internet usage, reporting any unsavoury content to the website administrator. Finally, avoid suspicious URLs and websites which require an unusual amount of registration information, and remember: if you need a little help deciding whether a website is safe, you’re never too old to enrol in Webonauts Academy.


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