So, my 9 year old and 11 year old are not on Facebook or MySpace, yet. They have email accounts, but don’t really use them very much—mostly just to send each other a Hi and I love you (sort of the same excitement of getting snail mail cards), or to email their teachers with a question they are too shy to ask them f2f at school. However, they are OBSESSED with Webkinz, the stuffed and virtual pets by toy company Ganz, and the Webkinz website. Time on Webkinz has become my bargaining tool—they have to have all homework done, read for at least 20 minutes, practiced their flutes, taken their showers, etc before being allowed on, and if they fight with each other or don’t listen to me, it is the first thing they lose.
At first I thought it was just wasted time online, but that it was ok as a reward. Then I looked a little deeper. They were working (ok, playing arcade type games) to earn Kinz Cash to purchase clothes, furniture and treats for their virtual pets. When buying these items they have to make decisions about the best way to spend their money and how much time it was going to take them to earn more if they spent all they have. They are learning some social networking skills and how to look for their friends user names online and send a “hi” or a gift to them, and how to never, ever respond online to anyone they don’t personally know. There is a craft corner where there are ideas for offline Webkinz crafts and activities, and a gallery where they can post pictures of what they have done offline (pictures do have to be snail mailed in, unfortunately). The Kinz Chat area only lets kids chat with pre-constructed messages from menu, which means that not only is chatting a safe activity, but that kids with developmentally younger literacy skills can participate with minimal support. Many of the games require only the use of the space bar or enter, so it is easy to set up access for students with physical disabilities (some timing skills are still needed). There are even grade leveled educational games (that they earn Kinz Cash for playing) in the areas of reading, math, science, and social studies that I found to correspond well with my daughters’ curriculums at school!
Do I want my daughters spending endless amounts of time playing on Webkinz when they could be reading, playing with friends, or riding their horses? No, but at least I feel better that the time they do spend is not a total loss. I even plan on using Webkinz to work on literacy skills with some of my students at school (unless I find the server has blocked the site, as not educational in nature!)
What do you think of Webkinz? Take a minute and let me know.