Toddlers can be pretty finicky when it comes to what they like to do, so maybe some free toddler games are what the doctor (er, checkbook) ordered. Of course we all like to minimize screen time, but if your toddler can learn a thing or two, why not have a little fun at the same time?
We already know toddlers are capable of practicing basic computer skills. Heck, they pick up the mouse far faster than grownups can! These games help develop computer skills while reinforcing other educational activities such as recognizing colors, shapes, letters and numbers.
These activities are intended for adult/child computer time. Playing with your children allows you to teach them positive computing habits and to reinforce any other learning that takes place. Keep in mind most of these use games use Flash, so they won't work on mobile phones or most tablets like the iPad.
This simple site reinforces letters, letter sounds and early spelling. Click on any letter to see the capital and small version, hear the letter sound and see a picture of something that starts with that letter. There's even a section that teaches you how to make the letter in American Sign Language. This site requires basic mouse skills.
Kneebouncers is a colorful and fun site designed specifically for toddlers. There are a number of different activities that involve all of the things that toddlers love, from animals to trains to planes. Each game reacts to any key pressed on the keyboard or click of the mouse. Great for babies! Games require no mouse skills.
Update: This site now charges. Prices start at $6/month although you get a free month to see if you like it.
Rainforest Peek-a-Boo invites toddlers and infants to press keys on the keyboard to elicit a response. Press any letter or number keys and an animal will pop out with a silly sound. There is little educational value to this game, but it will help younger kids develop the concept of cause and effect.
What baby doesn't like a good game of "peek-a-boo"? Each scene in this game invite you and your child to look for the hidden baby. Click the furniture, toys and other objects until you find the hiding toddler. This game requires basic mouse skills, but it's fun for parents to do with little ones. They can tell you where to look (or point) and you can control the mouse.
Monkey Music is a sort of quirky game. Move the monkey around (using the mouse) to change the music that is being played. Moving quickly allows you to create new songs. There isn't much to this game, but since it requires no mouse skills, it is a good option for new computer users.
Note: This site is filled with ads that are sometimes distracting.
Bembo's Zoo is an animated alphabet website. Click on a letter to discover the name of an animal that begins with that letter. Then, watch as the letters slowly transform into the shape of the animal they spell. This requires basic mouse skills and is best for kids who are already learning their letters.