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Best Children’s Social Networks: Virtual Worlds– Virtual Sanity.

Feb27

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I tend to beat figurative dead horses. They stay still when they’re dead and make it easier to aim. The dead horse I am currently beating, or was until yesterday is Midwinter Vacation. Midwinter Break, another attempt by school administrators to make me crazy (-ier). I picture them in a meeting with a pie chart reading: “Driving Melissa Summers Crazy”.
“Okay everyone, we really pulled it out with a one-two punch in 2004 with the lice and summer vacation. But she’s getting more and more stable. How can we really up the crazy in the 06-07 school year?”
And it’s working. If they add a few more slices of pie to that chart to include: “Finding Exact Change For Milk Each Morning” and “Snow Day!” they’ll have whipped up a perfect brew of crazy.
Today I thought we would talk about the computer and things kids can do on the computer which may or may not combat the crazy for a few more hours. It depends how crazy you are.
clubpenguin.gifClub Penguin is a safe, well monitored gaming (80% of Club Penguins staff is made up of safety personnel and moderators) and social networking site specifically tailored to kids. The site is ad free, which is nice since my children are pummeled over the head with advertising almost all the time. The site is supported by subscriptions (though limited free accounts are available).
You sign your child up in their own age group, and while parental monitoring is always wise when dealing with kids and the internet, Club Penguin has several safety features meant to keep your child safe from internet predators. Things like Ultimate Safe Chat, where your child can select from predefined menu of questions and answers and Standard Safe Chat where your child can type their own messages but these are carefully filtered (you can read about this feature here).
My 8 year old loves the chatting, games and collecting items for her penguin and his igloo. Club Penguin bought me many hours this Midwinter Break. My friend Andrea, with 3 girls five years old and under reports she was able to do laundry, run on the treadmill, put in some work hours and balance her checkbook while her girls were enthralled with Club Penguin.
I, on the other hand, with just two kids 5 and older managed to enjoy the silence while my children were enthralled with Club Penguin.
webkinz.jpgI first heard about Webkinz from Danielle at Foodmomiac and then yesterday the nurse at our pediatrician brought it up and later that day I heard from a friend who recommended it as a birthday gift for Max’s upcoming birthday. I think someone’s trying to tell me something.
You purchase a Webkinz animal at the store for about $10, the toy comes with a special code you enter on the Webkinz site. Your child then cares for their virtual animal online, keeping them happy and healthy. It sounds a lot like the virtual pet on a keyboard my children begged for and yet, can’t seem to keep alive. Maybe because hitting buttons is sort of, I don’t know, boring?
In the virtual Webkinz world though you earn money to buy food, toys and pet supplies by playing games, doing odd jobs and answering questions from categories like math, science or reading. Your child also creates friend’s lists so they can chat and compete with friends online. And like Club Penguin’s Ultimate Safe Chat, to keep perverts away your child selects chat subjects and pre-written sentences, questions and answers only.
My daughter has so many stuffed animals which continually sit in a basket never looked at or played with, at least until she sees me bagging them up for the Salvation Army. Suddenly they’re her best friends. Her best friends she keeps crushed in a large basket. I love the idea of a stuffed animal which will engage her in another way….and no Go Go My Walking Pup doesn’t count as ‘Engaging’.
What interactive sites do your children enjoy playing on?

About the author

Melissa Summers

Melissa Summers was a regular contributor writing Melissa's Buzz Off.


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24 Responses to “Best Children’s Social Networks: Virtual Worlds– Virtual Sanity.”

  1. My nine year old son just got a Club Penguin membership for his birthday. I wrote about it HERE. My Mother-in-Law actually knows one of the owners of Club Penguin. She goes to church with him in Kelowna, BC where the company is based. He gave her a t-shirt and keychain for her to include in the gift for Adam (with a “Puffle” on the front…whatever that is). My kids are also into Webkinz and we actually just spent the past weekend searching stores within a 3000 mile radius of our home for THE PANDA. They must have the panda! We never did find it. Let me know if you ever see one and I will cut off my right arm and have it delivered next day, UPS…because apparently, that is what I am willing to do for A PANDA !!!

  2. slouching mom Feb 27 at 12:31 pm Reply

    That’s funny, Melissa, I just posted about Club Penguin here. My nine-year-old son is beginning a 3rd-grade romance via Club Penguin.
    He used to like the Neopets site, but you predicted it: his Neopet died a sad and unobserved death. I think the Neopet people could really tone down their hunger motif, because I know at least my son got very anxious and agitated when he read warnings like, “Your pet is famished!”

  3. Amanda Feb 27 at 12:42 pm Reply

    Toontown Online is hosted by Disney. Its an online role playing game where toons battle “cogs” with gags. Disney is constantly improving the game, so it is always changing.
    The game features preset chat statements from a drop down menu. Children also can make “secret friends” with online friends they know by exchanging special codes outside of the game.
    This game is addictive for adults too! My four-year-old son and husband battle over who gets to play.

  4. Woman with Kids Feb 27 at 1:05 pm Reply

    My sons (12 & 9) love pbskids.org, Nick.com and cartoon network. I also have a parental control/monitor, so they can’t go sites I haven’t already approved for them.
    The Webkinz are just starting to make the rounds though…

  5. justthemommy Feb 27 at 1:13 pm Reply

    My 8-year-old just received his second WebKinz for his birthday this weekend. He got one as a gift last year from Grandma and has really loved it. Unfortunately, the subscription for each WebKinz only lasts for one year – unless you buy a new one. Then you can add your newly adopted pet and continue playing with both for another year. I figure $10 once a year really isn’t too bad, and I’ve found several games I like to play, too. I’m really good at some of those Odd Jobs!

  6. Madeleine Feb 27 at 1:27 pm Reply

    I can confirm that Webkinz is like crack for the early elementary set. I read their FAQ for parents today, and it has a section on how to limit your child’s computer time. Because once they get started they want to do Webkinz games all day long. Also, having all those kids on all day long makes their servers run really slowly so if they can get you to kick your kid off the computer they won’t have to upgrade their hardware.
    My daughter also likes Wonka.com. There are two drawbacks there: 1) it does make her ask me for Wonka candy. Marketing, it works! Who knew? and 2) They send you “wonka mail” every time you play a game and get bucks. It takes, like, forever to read the emails and you never get anything other than money messages, so she gave up opening the mail. And the only thing you can do with the money that we’ve found is buy clothes for your avatar, and the clothes are mostly pretty, ummmm, mature styles. Good arcade games, though.

  7. Lisa Feb 27 at 1:47 pm Reply

    My 5 (almost 6) year old son and my 10 year old daughter each have 2 Webkins and love spending time on the site taking care of them and playing games. It tends to be one of the few things they can do together and not fight about it.
    My 10 year old also visits Millsberry.com All her friends at school have an account and they meet up there and play games, buy and sell stuff for their houses etc.

  8. Connie Feb 27 at 1:49 pm Reply

    Similar sites to check out that are free…
    http://www.millsberry.com–The idea here is that you can have a virtual person that you clothe, house, feed, etc…there is a town that they navigate around. Kids earn money to pay for these things by playing games. It is sponsored by Millsberry the cereal manufacturer so the ads are for food items. Kids don’t seem to mind.
    Another site my kids love is http://www.adoptme.com. This is a virtual pet site.
    The only thing that bugs me about this site is that they play with the virtual pets more than they play with their “live” dog.

  9. Delton Feb 27 at 1:51 pm Reply

    Yes, Webkinz is a great site! Santa brought 1 for each of our 2 kids (ages 5 & 3). They love playing the games there.
    I’m totally hooked on 1 of the games, too. I spent about 3 hours playing last night. I was going to quit after about 2 hours, then realized it wasn’t “fair” that I’d made a bunch of money for only one kid, so I logged out and logged back in under the other kid’s account to even things up.

  10. bridget Feb 27 at 2:03 pm Reply

    I second the webkinz. My 5 and 8 yr old love it. I got hooked on a stacking game in the arcade this weekend. I was so proud when my dd came home to 2500 in the bank! She looked at me as if I was a addict.

  11. Dee Dee Feb 27 at 2:20 pm Reply

    My son has the Panda Webkinz. He got it for a Hannukah present and it was bought at a toy store in Rhode Island.
    He has been enjoying the website http://www.starfall.com which teaches the alphabet and reading. (I learned about it on Bub & Pie.) Oh, and it’s FREE!

  12. mad muthas Feb 27 at 3:24 pm Reply

    i must give a big shout out for my latest web discovery, on the bbc schools’ website (an excellent resource generally). anyway, it’s a learning to type programme called ‘dance mat typing’. i’ll have a go at putting in the url .. hang on … http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/typing/
    there you are – but if you just google “dance mat typing” you’ll get it anyway. if you enjoy regional british accents, you’ll get a kick out of it too, because there are animated characters with liverpool and birmingham accents as well as other, more exotic, ones!
    (it works for grown ups too – i’ve done most of this without looking at the keyboard … no mean achievement for moi)

  13. amy Feb 27 at 3:42 pm Reply

    Is anyone else’s kid obsessed with Charlie and Lola? My 5-year-old loves the books and TV shows, and can spend quite a lot of (quiet!) time on the website.

  14. kaleigh Feb 27 at 3:47 pm Reply

    My kids got turned on to Millsberry.com by a friend. It looks like a lot of fun (I watched them play for a while on a sick day, which is just as nerve-wracking as a snow day, which we rarely have here in Memphis.)
    We LOVED the American Girl club when it existed, but it closed this past summer, with wailing and gnashing of teeth (at least in our house). It was very sweet.

  15. foodmomiac Feb 27 at 4:02 pm Reply

    Thanks for the shout out! It’s funny to read about other parents playing webkinz. I spent a couple of hours last night playing the word game (it’s kind of like Boggle). Amusingly, they told me that “prick” was not a word. Liars!

  16. Shelly Feb 27 at 8:12 pm Reply

    My preschooler loves http://www.noggin.com.

  17. Katie Feb 27 at 8:44 pm Reply

    My oldest (9 year old) has a Club Penguin membership (Christmas gift) and all the kids including my 4 year old have “Millsberries” (as they call them.)
    This is the second place I’ve heard of the Webkinz, I’ll have to look into those when the kids aren’t hanging over my shoulder. Cause I don’t really need another reason for my kids to kick me off my computer…

  18. Melanie Feb 27 at 9:04 pm Reply

    Mine’s a little young for chats and all that, but he loves uptoten.com, which is a weird but cute Canadian site for little kids.

  19. Megan Feb 28 at 1:02 pm Reply

    The American Library Association has a good Web site reference page at http://www.ala.org/greatsites. It’s not the best designed page but a solid reference.

  20. Hall Feb 28 at 2:36 pm Reply

    Hiya, Vicky procrastamom, eBay has webkinz Pandas… looks like around $22 delivered via Buy it Now. HTH.
    My 9 year old daughter is a webkinz fanatic right now, but it’s been pleasing to see her get a sense of value. Our local store only has a few kinds and she’d like different ones, but the fact that they cost more from eBay has kept her from buying any of those.

  21. Rachel Mar 01 at 5:55 pm Reply

    I’m not going to lie to you – I’m a little jealous over my daughter’s Webkinz. What an awesome concept! I’m so mad I didn’t think of it (right up there with Build-a-Bear Workshop and Chipolte burritos). Time on Webkinz is my number one bribe for my 7 year old, and the very idea of GETTING a new Webkinz can create such a fervor that I can only bring out that bribe when I’m ready for some major Stepford Child action – say, I want to garage cleaned out or the house painted. Webkinz could change the face of child labor in our house, AND it’s a pretty cool website that has my 7 year old pondering how much she REALLY wants to pay for a new oven for her frog. (“Mom, is it really worth the money, or should I keep saving? I have so much saved up I hate to spend it!”) Lord knows she isn’t learning those lessons from me…

  22. Rachel Mar 12 at 5:53 pm Reply

    I absolutly love clubpenguin it is a totally awesome webpage and so is webkinz. i think these 2 websites are the best virtaul life games i have ever played!!! Try them!!!!

  23. Kila Mar 23 at 1:06 pm Reply

    Millsberry is good too! Go to: Millsberry.com
    Webkinz, Neopets, Millsberry, club penguin……

  24. Autumn Apr 19 at 4:28 pm Reply

    There’s a site called Groovy party.com.It’s for girls,but realy fun!

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