PBS Kids & PBS Kids Go!
Any of this network's 20-plus online playgrounds would be at home in our guide. But why choose when there's something smart for every age? Little ones can help Elmo create a story in the Sesame Street site or build a neighborhood with Mister Rogers in his section, while older kids can watch an original Go! Web series, like Noah Comprende, or find out how to protect the environment in the Eeko World. (2 years+, free; pbskids.org)
Your little learner is guaranteed a well-rounded playdate on this educational site, which offers different levels of activities (from preschool to early elementary). One day he can learn to play notes on a virtual piano or paint a masterpiece, and the next he can earn tickets by tracing letters on the screen or doing a puzzle. Plus, for extra security there are no ads or external links. (2 years+, free limited access or $8 per month for full; abcmouse.com)
Join the adventures of Pocoyo -- from the Spanish word for "Little Me" -- in his imaginative, easy-to-navigate world. Preschoolers create a simple avatar and then can take part in lots of activities, from coloring to catching butterflies to playing a game that requires them to tidy up. For safety, there is no chat, but kids can select their mood to show other players how they're feeling. (3 years+, free limited access or $8 per month for full; pocoyo.com)
Think of it as the kind of site that grows with your child. There is so much to do, see, and learn that he will find something to keep him engaged, whether it's endlessly remodeling his tree house, going on quests, sharing poetry, or having an informative chat with Isaac Newton. (5 years+, free limited access or $6 per month for full; secretbuilders.com)
This site lets kids create a heroic avatar, pick a superpower, and play games to save the world from the Bully Bunch. (Parent perk: Real-world tips for dealing with bullies are picked up.) It also has an educational slant, with kids completing missions that help build foreign-language and geography skills, and environmental awareness. (6 years+, free limited access or $6 per month for full; herotopia.com)
Island hopping is now a childhood hobby, thanks to this edutainment site. Kids get to visit a diverse array of places, including Wild West Island, Mythology Island, and even Wimpy Wonderland (based on Diary of a Wimpy Kid), and between all of the games and quests, they pick up real tidbits and trivia about each locale. (7 years+, free limited access or $4 per month for full; poptropica.com)
No one does the great outdoors better than National Geographic, and now it's sharing its vast knowledge with your child. Create an animal avatar and discover nature videos, wildlife games, and amusing factoids about plants. (7 years+, free limited access or $6 per month for full; animaljam.com)
Kung Fu Panda World
Your kid will get sucked into the well-designed world of the hit animated movie. Players pick one of three kung-fu styles for their avatar and then set out on a journey to meet film characters, master goal-oriented games, earn rewards, and interact with others. (7 years+, $6 per month; kungfupandaworld)
One of the most trafficked role-playing sites, this video-game-quality world has awesome graphics and even better adventures, including rescuing a chameleon, collecting bananas for rewards, chatting with other monkeys, and going on one fun quest after another to save the tribes from dark forces. (7 years+, free limited access or $10 per month for full; monkeyquest.com)
At this site kids can dive at the Great Barrier Reef, ride on Apollo 11, or even journey through the human body. And they'll get fun lessons in politics, ecology, and more without even realizing they're learning. (7 years+, $12 a month; wonderrotunda.com)
Originally published in the September 2011 issue of Parents magazine.