Story Visit | 0+ 1 of 10Grandparents and other long-distance relatives will love this reading hub from Sesame Street and Nokia Research Center, which offers free access in exchange for your feedback. Through a fusion of video chat and Sesame-themed interactive storybooks, grownups can read to children across the miles and even “turn” pages in real time.
Get it from Story Visit
Poisson Rouge | 0+ 2 of 10Now in its 10th year, this treasure trove of preschool learning games requires no reading to navigate. Instead, kids move the cursor through a virtual “playroom” where clicking on toys opens activities that range from building puzzles to telling time. It’s a novel approach to an old formula, and we like that even the site’s coloring pages are funky and abstract.
Get it from Poisson Rouge
Starfall | 3+ 3 of 10This teacher-endorsed educational site packs a full phonics program — from basic ABCs to online comics for more confident readers — into dozens of games and interactive stories. Though you’ll find the richest content on the site itself, a new iPhone edition also lets you take Starfall on the road.
Get it from Starfall
KidZui | 3+ 4 of 10This downloadable browser creates a closed system where kids can play games, browse age-appropriate sites, and even share and rate web pages, all without fear of stumbling across something objectionable. All available content — even YouTube videos — is first approved by KidZui’s editors, while parental controls give Mom and Dad even deeper authority over what kids see.
Get it from KidZui
Tic-Tac-Toe Free | 3+ 5 of 10Some games never go out of style. We like the retro chalkboard design, the one-player option (a lifesaver in grocery lines) and the ability to undo moves before we regret them. In-game ads allow this one to be free, but the game's developers have done a nice job of pushing them out of view.
Get it from iTunes Store
KIDO’Z Kid’s Web Environment | 3+ 6 of 10This Adobe Air app turns your PC screen or Android phone into a colorful entertainment hub that's kid-safe and ad-free, even on sites where ads usually reign. Bonus points for the ability to personalize your kids' entire experience, from the security settings to the sources of KIDO’Z games, songs and videos.
Get it from KIDO'Z or Android Market
Angry Birds | 3+ 7 of 10No discussion of free games would be complete without this iOS and Android smash. Use your finger-activated slingshot to launch cartoon birds at their pig nemeses, who raise the stakes with each level by hiding inside progressively tougher-to-smash structures. While in-game ads keep the Android version free, we like that they disappear after a few seconds. (Oh, and did we mention the plush toys?)
Get it from iTunes Store ($0.99) or Android Market (free)
World of Cars Online | 5-8 8 of 10Though you can upgrade to (read: pay for) "Sponsored Car" status, the free content in this virtual-world racing game based on Disney Pixar’s Cars will more than satisfy kids' attention spans. Design your car, explore the Cars universe alongside other players, and collect points to unlock oodles of Cars-themed virtual goods.
Get it from World of Cars Online
Kidnetic | 9+ 9 of 10Kidnetic turns online gaming into a real-world workout. Health-themed quizzes and simple recipes (from smoothies to veggie burgers) help kids see the links between the food they eat and the energy they have. And fast-paced games ‐ including a scavenger hunt in which you race through your own house to find items — keep the whole family moving, no Wii or Kinect required.
Get it from Kidnetic
Free Realms | 9+ 10 of 10Unlike dark, potentially racy massively multiplayer online games (MMos), like World of Warcraft, Free Realms is an MMO designed with kids in mind. Your character still explores, battles and embarks on quests in a magical, wide-open world, but parental controls (including the ability to limit the on-screen words kids can see) and a refreshing lack of violence help keep things clean.
Get it from Free Realms