Two-year-old Lilianna Robinson is pursuing one of her favorite pastimes, playing on the computer while sitting on her mother's lap. They've logged onto a site called KneeBouncers.com. "Whenever my wife, Holly, is at the computer and my daughter spies her at the computer, it's 'KneeBouncer, KneeBouncer, KneeBouncer,'" says Jim Robinson.
Robinson designed the on-line game site more than seven years ago with his friend Kurt Dommermuth. "As adults, we gravitate towards our computer. It's becoming part of the hub of the house and it's only natural that even the littlest, the 6 month olds, even they gravitate to it," says Dommermuth.
That is exactly what happened in both Dommermuth's and Robinson's houses. "Kurt and I had had kids at the same time. We had two little girls. Mine was 6 months old and Kurt's was 9 months old and I had two older kids, too," Robinson says. While the older children played games on line, the babies got frustrated because they couldn't use a mouse.
Any key will do
There's no frustration with KneeBouncers. Babies can hit any key on the keyboard and get an immediate response. Lillianna is particularly fond of a game called "Choo-Choo." The train's bell rings, the whistle blows, the headlight comes on and the engine eventually takes off, pulling a passenger car loaded with a green cat, a yellow bear, a purple rabbit and a yellow dog with red ears.
Parents can choose from 18 different games, featuring those and other colorful characters. "A lot of the games came from just the simple games we play with our kids when they are babies," says Robinson. In some games, babies pop balloons or bubbles. In others, they play peekaboo with the characters as they appear and disappear, or make them jump on the bed and splash in puddles. They can also play simple tunes on virtual instruments.
Family fun goes viral
Robinson, who is trained as a graphic artist, comes up with the games and does the drawings. Dommermuth, a programmer, brings the games to life with animation and sound. Because they design Websites for a living, it seemed natural to put KneeBouncers on line.
"We put it up there as something sort of fun, a good idea for our families, but didn't anticipate it would be so popular," Dommermuth says.
Popular indeed. The free game site has attracted more than one million Web visitors from more than 180 countries.
A couple of years ago, when the two became aware of how popular their site had become, they decided to "follow their dreams" and focus on making KneeBouncers.com all it could be.
Although Robinson says the first activities on KneeBouncers were just for fun, newer games were designed with more education value in mind. "We talked to some preschool teachers and kindergarten teachers and said 'here are some are ideas, what do you think of them?'" They were advised to create games to introduce children to letters, numbers, shapes and colors.
KneeBouncers.com remains free. No registration is required to play the games. And there is no advertising, so parents don't have to worry that their child will jump to another site through a pop-up.
Expanding the KneeBouncer family
Robinson and Dommermuth have made a little money from merchandising and they are getting ready to grow the brand. They are currently working on both Webisodes and TV episodes based on characters in the games, and they are developing applications for Apple's i-Phone so parents can take KneeBouncers everywhere they go with their children.