Children tend to explore websites because they seek to have fun as well as to learn. Thus, websites should try to to be playful and exploit their general curiosity by making the site's content attention-grabbing and, to a small degree, challenging in order to entice them to go through the site. For example, children may seek to explore certain areas within a site because exploring it satisfies a curiosity need that is enticed by the content of the site. MaMaMedia.comô did this by offering children the opportunity to make their own customizable cartoon character, thereby satisfying both the children's playful and curiosity needs.
Children often seek out interactivity with the site, again to be creative and to have fun. This can be in the form of coloring pages that can be printed out. In fact, coloring pages can be more popular than games on a site (Fishler, 1998). Other popular methods are to allow children to create music or draw pictures.
In addition, children are much more attracted to animation than adults. Animation adds a great deal to the "fun factor" if it is done well, but too much animation will distract and disorient them (Sullivan, Norris, Soloway, & Peet, 2000). For instance, Halgren, Fernandes, and Thomas (1995) found that children often click visible features on a screen just to see what would happen. If there is a resulting animation or sound, children often repeatedly click that area of the screen just to continue the animation or sound. Therefore, gratuitous animation or sounds may distract the child from finding more relevant information (Halgren, Fernandes, & Thomas, 1995).
Children do not have the attention span for longer downloads. According to Dave Lewnzi, an author of an online children's site, "A lot of children expected to see a picture when they hit a button, and they were disappointed if they didn't see one." Thus, he recommends placing many multi-colored pictures that load relatively quickly (Fishler, 1998).
In another study by Sullivan, et al. (2000) children tended to wait for images to completely load on a page before navigating to another in the belief that a complete loading was mandatory. This wait produced signs of frustration.
The interest in the site however will last as long as the contents are innovative and fun. Thus, it is advisable that websites geared toward children frequently have new features in order for the site to be inventive and interesting to the children. It is also recommended that children be rewarded with different and interesting features at each level within the site. This will help draw them deeper within the site.
Research has consistently shown that most children under the age of five will have an attention span of only around 8 to 15 minutes. Many children will have even less. Thus, the layout and content of a site should reflect the low attention span of children by being designed to be accessed quickly. Directions should be very short, uncomplicated, and easily read (children tend not to read directions voluntarily), and games should not take longer than their attention span.
Children under eight generally do not think in abstract terms. For example, children may find it easier to recognize actual pictures of objects than to use symbols to represent them. It is important to be as 'concrete' as possible when explaining directions. Moreover, since children view the world in more concrete terms, icons should reflect this by being as concrete as possible.
Children have different background knowledge than adults. Children are typically unfamiliar with many business-related concepts, such as file folder (Jones, 1992). Therefore, great care should be taken to create metaphors that reflect the understanding, environment, and language of children (Schneider, 1996). For example, after a series of usability studies with children, designers for the word processing program, Creative Writer2 used a button with the word, "oops" instead of using the traditional downward-curved arrow to signify an undo action button (Hanna, Risden, Czerwinski, & Alexander, 1998).
Children can make the distinction between a 'fun' website and a usable one. Buttons should represent familiar things to children, easily convey their purpose, and should be fairly large - the size of a quarter to accommodate their poorer hand-eye coordination. Buttons should indicate when they are being moused over, such as being highlighted (see Hanna, Risdan, Czerwinski, & Alexander, 1998).
Another important concern is the actual language of the site. For instance, the website's language should lie somewhere between being understandable -don't use computer lingo - and fun, but not too childish for the intended audience or they will resent it. Also, the younger the intended audience, the more concrete the language should be. That is, young children have difficulty in understanding abstract concepts. In addition, the content should be free of words that may cause the website to be blocked by web filtering agents. Even statements such as, "King Arthur wore a silver breast-plate to protect him in battle" could cause the site to be blocked from children because it has the word, "breast." Therefore, it is recommended that the content's language be examined for words that would cause the site to be blocked from viewing.
The font type of the text may also be a factor in the attractiveness of a website. For instance, Bernard and Mills (2001) found that fourth and fifth graders significantly prefer the 14-point Arial and the 12-point Comic Sans MS font over the 12-point Times New Roman font and 12-point Courier New. Examining participants' 1st and 2nd preference choice further shows the popularity of the Comic font (see Figure 3).
Teenage girls on the other hand, tend to read more online magazines (36% to 19%), send e-greetings (75% to 48%), and do homework online (74% to 63%) more than teenage boys. In appealing to this audience, it thus may be beneficial to provide one or more of these features.
Usability Research Lab