Summary of Article: Kids 4-6 “The Muddy Middle

This week we looked at the website A List Apart and selected an article to summarize. The website is very interesting, and I had a hard time picking one because there are so many great articles. I finally settled on Kids 4-6 “The Muddy Middle” by Debra Levin Gelman.


As a parent, as well as someone who works in a school environment, I know how important it is for websites intended for kids to be designed with them at the forefront. The article Kids 4-6:
“The Muddy Middle” looks specifically at the pre-school/early school age children – kids who are no longer toddlers, are more independent, but are pre-readers or early readers. Basically, this age group understands the rules yet continually push the boundaries. Author Debra Levin Gelman gives six strategies to keep in mind when designing for 4-6 year-olds, describing a child’s developmental stages and how to design with each in mind.

Make it social

Kids want to interact with characters, which can be achieved by speaking directly to kids through characters, elements, and instructions.

Make learning part of the game

This curious age group soaks up knowledge, yet they have little patience. They want to know how things work RIGHT NOW. That means short, easy-to-understand instructions and activities that are fun. Audible instructions are also suggested since this group’s reading ability is in the early stages.

Give feedback and reinforcement

Short attention spans and short fuses are typical of 4-6 year-olds, so it’s essential to design in such a way as to help them stay focused. Levin Gelman suggests limiting distractions by removing extraneous functions, breaking it up into manageable sections, and making it rewarding through a variety of feedback.

Keep it free-form

Kids this age need to break the rules, but in safe ways. Creating an online experience that provides simple rules while also allowing children to be creative and “break” those rules is appealing.

Keep if challenging

Kids ages 4-6 are now Big Kids, so anything they perceive as babyish will be dismissed. Activities need to be challenging, with multiple steps. Challenges should be easy to solve at first, allowing kids to master the concepts, then increase in difficulty.

Parents are users, too

Keep in mind that parents will need to observe and supervise (which is safe Internet use), but they should be minimally involved in helping children complete the tasks. Limiting the focus on “winning” encourages kids to work independently instead of having parents do the work for them.

My Reflections

As toy brands are seeing sales fall as a result of competition from video games, smartphones, and tablets, it’s important for brands to extend their presence on all media. Brand loyalty begins early, as children as young as 2 recognize brands. Those targeting children would be wise to provide parent-approved websites that engage, entertain, and educate their kids.

Highlights Kids is an example of a site that meets this criteria. Activities are easy to find, and the focus is on that activity without a lot of distractions. Parents can appreciate the educational value of the site.

Common Sense Media rated the website:

Quality: 4/5
Learning: 3/5
Engagement: 4/5
Learning Approach: 3/5

Other brand websites that ranked well on Common Sense Media include Arthur, Lego, and Play-Doh. Conversely, the lowest ratings websites include Barbie, Nabisco World, and Tonka. While a bad user experience may not make or break a brand, having a positive experience can only help.

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