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Nine great educational Web sites

You've heard the worries about young children and too much television, but what about the Internet?

According to a recent study funded by the National Science Foundation and the Kaiser Foundation, children use computers at very young ages - 21 percent of children 2 years and younger; 58 percent of 3- to 4-year-olds; and 77 percent of 5- to 6-year-olds. And while the World Wide Web can be a scary place when it comes to letting your kids roam, now there's evidence that some Web sites can actually help build a better brain in your early learner. The key is to know where to go - and why.

Why “brain boosting” Web sites can help

“The root of learning - whether it be reading, math or even writing - is good cognitive skills,” explains Tanya Mitchell, Director of Training for LearningRx, a 'brain training' franchise. “Things like auditory and visual processing, memory, processing speed, comprehension, short- and long-term memory, logic and reasoning, and attention are the underlying tools that enable kids to successfully focus, think, prioritize, plan, understand, visualize, remember and create useful associations, and solve problems.”

According to Mitchell, any weak cognitive skill - or a combination of several - can lead to a learning disability. By identifying a weak cognitive skill early, parents can help prevent learning disabilities - even before a child attends kindergarten. “For example, there are very promising studies that show a 90 percent decrease in reading problems if children are first introduced to sound analysis activities,” she says. “This might include things like rhyming or playing sound games when children learn how to add or omit sounds in a syllable.”

Dr. Ken Gibson, author of Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake up the Smart in your Child, agrees. “Brain-boosting games can help children build cognitive skills, which can in turn help them advance in all subjects,” says Dr. Gibson. “A child who has Attention Deficit Disorder, for example, would be best served playing games that focus on the three types of attention - sustained, selective and divided. While a child who struggles with numerical concepts, such as basic addition, might see great improvement by playing games like focus on math computations, numerical fluency and mental math.”

Of course, there's no need to censor which games your children play, as long as they're appropriate for their age level. Even strong readers can have fun playing word games and your little math whiz can only get better playing numbers games. Visit some of the sites below and bookmark your favorites for faster access. Just be sure to hit the refresh button as some of the sites update regularly.

Wendy Burt-Thomas is a full-time freelance writer with more than 1,000 published pieces. She is the author of two books for McGraw-Hill. WendyBurt-Thomas.com

Online brain games for kids

Looking for a great way to build your child's cognitive skills? Check out these fun online brain games. From math and reading games to puzzles that build logic and reasoning, memory and comprehension, there's something for every interest and age group.

1. DANA - This private philanthropic foundation focuses on science, health and education. The “Brainy Kids Online” section offers games and activities, as well as a “virtual lab” to help your child learn more about the human brain.

2. Games for the Brain -  If your kid loves games, this is one of the best sites on the Web. From Mahjongg Solitaire and Chinese Checkers to trivia games and crime scene scenarios, there's a wide variety to choose from.

3. Fun Brain -  This colorful site allows you to search games by grade or just browse by subject. There are Web books and comics, movies, classic fun brain games (grammar, math, reading), and bold graphics and mainstream cartoon characters (like “The Incredibles”) to keep kids interested.

4. Kaboose -  The tutoring section of this Web site offers educational games for kids, as well as word puzzles, language builders, online stories, online musical games and mazes.

5. LearningRx -  This Web site for Colorado Springs-based LearningRx, a national “brain-training” franchise, offers free downloadable copies of Think Magazine and LearningRx Magazine that contain fun brain-building games to take on the road or just use at home.

6. Math.com -  “A world of math online.” Games including Peg Solitaire, a maze generator, and other math-based games.

7. Discovery Education -  Brain Boosters are broken down by category: lateral thinking, logic, reasoning, spatial awareness, number and math play, categorization, and word and letter play.

8. Kids Sites - A clearinghouse of Websites that includes a section of games for younger kids.

9. Cool Math 4 Kids -  Touting itself as “an amusement park of math and more,” this site offers math games, brain benders, math problems, a math dictionary, times tables and more.

Not sure what games build which skills? Visit www.unlocktheeinsteininside.com and download the free Games For Skills chart.

While these sites are good for building skills, don't rely on them to “repair” cognitive deficiencies. If your child struggles in school, look into multidisciplinary brain training programs that offer intense individualized training.

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