There is a distinct lack of good, free, educational websites that cater for younger children; Kneebouncers.com is limited and appeals mainly to the very young (under 2s), whilst the Cbeebies website is excellent but hard to navigate (maybe thats just me) and encourages my daughter to recognise certain characters on their heavily marketed ranges of products, increasing the level of pestering that I am subjected to. So I had resigned myself to a couple of years getting frustrated with the Cbeebies site when I heard about poissonrouge.com and thought it was worth a look.
Poisson rouge is one of several websites set up by www.interactica.com; which has a list of all their other sites/games and links on it (worth checking out). These sites include sites for the Tellytubbies and games for The Science Museum and National Portrait Gallery. I had a quick surf around their links and bookmarked quite a few for future use, as they are all well put together and obviously designed to appeal to kids (and parents) without dumbing everything down.
Poisson rouge (or red fish for non-French speakers) is a website for children of all ages, containing over 150 mini games to work on mouse control, language development, motor skills, literacy and numeracy. The websites main page is simple and uncluttered, taking the appearance of a childrens playroom; you navigate by clicking on the toys. This design is brilliant as it means that pre-school children can surf this site on their own, without having to have a parent there to decipher all the words and instructions. This is something that other childrens websites should observe as my daughter gets terribly frustrated (as do I) trying to find her favourite games on other websites which are often overly wordy and complicated. Here she can simply say ladybird mummy and she has more control over her experience.
As there are no written instructions given anywhere on this site, it can take some time to a) work out where all the games are and b) what on earth you are supposed to do! I was a bit baffled when I first arrived on the site so here is a brief overview of the different areas!
On the left is a painting game where children are given a choice of objects to paint (fill in the patterns) using the mouse as a paintbrush. There are five different colours given but you can mix and blend them to create the colour you want i.e. click on the blue and the red and you get purple paint, then click on the white and you get a paler shade. To clear the brush you simply click on the water jug.
The building blocks on the right are a series of 9 mini games related to numbers, so clicking on seven brings up a series of Russian dolls to take apart and put together again; or clicking on 8 brings up my favourite game which involves bottles and a nice big hammer!
The final game in this area is the record player in the corner, you click a colour and then click the lever on the left which lowers the needle. You can control the speed using the blue wedge at the side.
*Right hand shelf*
The keyboard allows you to create your own short tune by clicking on the piano keys and then play it, great fun for budding composers. As you click the keys the note appears on the lines above so you can see the tune coming together whilst you are creating!
The blue box next to it contains 20 smaller games all jumbled together, ranging from blowing up a balloon until it bursts, to finding the 3D shape that matches the 2D shape and a simple peg board.
I love the next one (the black and white picture) as it leads to 8 black and white optical illusions, but the lack of colour doesnt appeal to my daughter at all, so I have to visit that area when she goes to bed!
Finally the four little people allow you to create a round of Frere Jacques. Sung by children with what sound like authentic French accents this is absolutely charming. You can click on one child or all four, make them discordant or blend beautifully and is a really sweet little game.
Leads to a flower picture with 14 little bug related games. They are all hidden and only appear when you run the mouse over them. The majority of them help develop mouse control as you move and place the little bugs, ranging from the easy (the butterfly), to the difficult (the coloured lines) and they are all great fun.
*The a pictures*
Each one takes you through to an alphabet page, with a little mini game behind each letter. The left hand a is the French alphabet, the middle one is English and the right hand one is Spanish (a relatively new addition). If you have your speakers on you can hear the words pronounced, as well as hear all the sound effects from the other games! Some of the games are repeated on several alphabets e.g. the Cake game is also the Gateau game, which I think is brilliant as it helps make the connection between the words. There are also some interesting words such as ukelele which I love, and you can hear the sounds it makes in the game behind it. As a parent its great as my daughter is having additional exposure to languages without me having to puzzle my way through a foreign website, my French is ok but my Spanish is terrible!
*Left Hand Shelf*
Click on the submarine to dive into an underwater world, with a strange little game behind each sea creature you meet.
Behind the ladybird are simple jack in the box games and ones that are designed to appeal to the lower age ranges. My daughter particular likes the wibbly wobbly clown and the boingy seagull, but I love the little theatre on the shelf. Clicking on it changes the background and moving the little red tabs on the either side moves the figures ..simple pleasures for simple minds I guess!
The puzzle piece leads to eleven 3-6 piece puzzles to be put back together by your child. One click picks up the piece so you dont need to hold down the mouse when you are moving them (I make this mistake a lot!). A lovely colourful range of images to be put back together and once completed you have the option of doing them again and again and again!
Behind the rocket are 9 card matching games, all quite complicated and I would imagine for children of 4+ as my daughter is certainly not ready for them and even I have been known to struggle.
Finally the dangly pictures take you to a page where you have to match the mini images below to the main picture. Another complicated one for older children (and adults!)
All the games have a great range of sounds to encourage your children to participate, but the main page produces a baby laugh every few minutes, something worth remembering if you have it inactive in another window. It didnt make me jump, honestly! Quite a few of the games open with the page covered in bubbles, as your child is supposed to practice their mouse skills and pop them all, a nice additional feature.
To get back to the main page at anytime you simply click on the red fish in the bottom left of the screen, or the image at the top left to get back to the sub menu.
Both my daughter and I love this site and I have been known to occasionally visit it for research after she has gone to bed. It is bright and stimulating, without being too childish and if you visit it whilst drunk it is absolutely compelling! Designed to gently stimulate and teach it doesnt feel like you are learning anything until someone asks you what the Spanish word for butterfly is (mariposa by the way!).
The games cover a whole range of skills and help to gently build up competence, especially when used with an over-enthusiastic adult! Whilst some of them are admittedly extremely simple, they are beautifully executed and hold my 2 year old rapt! I would totally recommend this site to anyone with children and adults who like simple and interesting little websites (with FLYING PIGS!!) that make you feel about 10 years younger. This would also be a very useful resource for home educators or those who are teaching their children another language (only French and Spanish though!).
My only gripe would be that there just isnt enough on the site and its hard to tell someone the web address, but apart from that it is a fantastic little site. My daughter has come on leaps and bounds in her potty training since we have been using this site, because we promise her 20 minutes of games every time she does something in her potty (so its saving us a fortune in chocolate rewards as well).
You can buy cotton T-shirts with the fish logo on from the link at the bottom of the page, but at 22 euros each I havent taken the plunge. There is also a link to download your own customised versions of some of the games for 5 euro each, or 25 for 7, but seeing as the whole website is free, again I havent bothered.