A wary mom finally lets her kids visit the Internet, where they find plenty of wholesome fun, games, and — yes — education

By Lois Alter Mark
Updated October 17, 1997 at 04:00 AM EDT

If you had asked my kids a couple of months ago what their favorite websites were, chances are they would have pointed to dusty corners of the living room. More low-tech than cyberspaced, we all resisted the lure of the Net for what we thought were good reasons: Alex, 7, and Sara, 5, because it seemed too complicated; my husband and I because of all the things we had heard about children having easy access to pornography and pornographers having easy access to children.

Then Beanie Babies hit. The hottest collectibles around since Tickle Me Elmo, these beanbag animals were impossible to find in stores but were right there in living color on the official Beanie Baby home page (http://www.ty.com). We bit the bullet and logged on. Alex and Sara immediately typed in their names, became members, and were thrilled to receive E-mail with their own passwords, entitling them to send in artwork and chat with other collectors. Sara played ”Who’s That Beanie?” and Alex, a reluctant reader/writer, finished one Beanie crossword puzzle and asked to do another.

We were hooked. Not knowing what other sites were available, we decided to try favorite company names. ”Who’s Dot Com?” Sara asked, as we clicked away. Lego maniac Alex was able to build a duck and embark on a treasure hunt (http://www.lego.com) while Sara headed straight for Disney (http://www.disney.com) to check out her favorite characters. Her beloved Samantha doll stars with Addy, Felicity, Kirsten, and Molly (if you have a daughter, you don’t have to ask) on http://www.americangirl.com, but the site, an online community where girls can turn to their peers for advice, is geared more toward 7- to 12-year-olds.

As Mom, I felt compelled to seek educational sites and found the gangs from Arthur and Sesame Street hanging out on http://www.pbs.org. Alex was excited to see Kratts’ Creatures and has made his own book from all the pages about animals he’s printed out, diligently adding each Creature of the Week. Sara, though, exited the site in a huff, never to return, once she realized that Arthur’s dog, Pal, was not included in the list of characters you could read about.

Since we began our journey through the Web, we’ve learned that the best sites offer lots of games and contests (http://www.happypuppy.com, www. bonus.com, and http://www.4kids.com are some of our favorites) or hook you up with sites you might not have found otherwise (try http://www.yahooligans.com and http://www.xplore.com for great sports, science, and entertainment links).

As a parent, I’ve learned that the family that clicks together sticks together and that you can’t argue with anything that encourages your children to read — even if it’s The Yuckiest Site on the Internet (http://www.nj.com/yucky) and the words it’s spouting include spit, burp, and belch.