Worthy Tween/Kid Communities
With the web being as broad and expansive as the universe these days, I thought I might lay out some wicked webpages (communities, etc) for kids/tweens/teens.
- Foster’s Big Fat Awesome House Party*: Safe, original, and never boring… This online community
is one of my personal favorites. It’s got goofy smeared all over it (if you’ve ever seen Cartoon Network’s TV show “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” then you’ll understand). I’m not distracted by the safety features, and I’m not disappointed by the inability to connect more with my friends. There are new elements/games every day. I think one of my favorite features is that– you can only do so much in one day. Kids can’t spend their eternity wandering Foster’s halls. But it leaves the gamer with enough of a happy taste that they’re excited to come back for more the next day!
- Sparktop.org: This web-venture is GREAT! They mix education with entertainment and are VERY safe. I’ve actually met some of the people who work at Sparktop and they’re wonderfully dedicated to their audience– wanting them to learn, explore, and grow in a safe environment (yahoooo!). I do know they are great with LD kids (as I was an ADD kid growing up). Sparktop has games, forums, and all sorts of activities on the site. They also are quick to pass any collected information along to the parent (as always, parental permission is needed). This is a great site for parents to recommend to their kids.
- Club Penguin: Uber-safe, parent-approved (big time), and kid approved. I’ve heard A LOT about the awesomeness of Club Penguin. I’ve been through it a handful of times. Despite the cuddley name, Club Penguin is gender-neutral. It tends to appeal to the pre-tween set (roughly ages 6/7 – 11/12). Club Penguin challenges it’s members and does a great job of keeping strangers away. Kids CAN talk to their IRL friends, but they have to be checked & approved. Keep an eye on your tater tots & their wish to find “cheats”. Since I’ve written about CP in the past, search engines point people to my blog when they google things like “Club Penguin Cheats to Win” and so on. Thanks to wordpress admin I can see such things. Silly kids. For unlimited access to member services, there is a fee. But kids can create a free account and engage themselves in the world. Parents can get transcripts of their child’s activities (paying members only). To be honest– I hear the most about Club Penguin from kids & parents alike.
- Whyville: If your kids are too old for Club Penguin, they might like Whyville. Whyville has a large following of members. There are chat options, and it takes some time to gain access. They’re very concious of keeping a safe site. The “virtual” aspects of this community aren’t the same as say “Foster’s” or “Nicktropolis”, but they’re unique to everything else out there, and that can be very refreshing. Whyville also provides Transcripts for parents. Also, Whyville does a great job in empowering their community to take ownership. Whyvillians can write for the Whyville newspaper and engage in character building exercises (educational games too).
- Disney’s Toontown: There is a short window of time for FREE Trial access to Toontown. It is very much a virtual world (not just a community). Predictive text & pre-written sentences help communication as kids explore Toontown with their Disney character. This also has the parent’s transcript option. Very safe, and great for Disney-a-holics.
- UPDATE: Rumor has it that Disney is looking for Toontown to be offered free on the basis of product/marketing involvement (like Nicktropolis & Neopets). Others buy into sponsoring areas of Toontown for free. Fingers Crossed!!!
- VMK (Virtual Magic Kingdom): Like Disney’s Toontown, there is a short window of time to enjoy free access to VMK. Make your own virtual “you”, play games, and wander through the gobs of Disney marketing. But Disney is– if anything– always family friendly and safe. That’s their mantra (besides ‘buy Disney’). I grew up a Disney kid and I would have loved both this and Disney’s Toontown (probably Toontown a little better because you can roleplay your Disney character instead of your mini-virtual-you).
- Imbee: A GREAT social networking spot is “Imbee”! This is like the young’in’s starter kid to Myspace & Facebook. Parents & kids sign up together. Parents get a page. Kids get a page. Its all very safe and very easy (big buttons for navagation, simple design). Kids can say hi to their friends and make new friends– and all under the eye of parents (who, from their page, can see everything their child says & does). And I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) that schools can opt into the program as well (teachers & classrooms). Again, this is a great site to help kids understand the fun in social networking.
- Nick.com: Safe, loud, fun, totally Nickelodeon’s site. Kids can get emails, chat in forums, chats, and interact with games & favorite shows. Also worthy of notice: turbonick.com
- Update: Nick just released a new front page– less orange insanity. It’s more streamlined & I dig it! Yay!
- Nicktropolis: Nickelodeon’s new entry to the virtual world. Like all of the sites I’ve listed, very parent friendly. Your child signs up through their nick.com account, but cannot talk to anyone in the community until it’s parent approved. There’s a lot of roaming, and a lot of Nickelodeon marketing & games (which is to be expected). They’ve special events now and then too. Parents have the opportunity to gadge the level at which they feel comfortable allowing their children to communicate with others. At the most– kids get to use predictive text to communicate openly with others. They can also befriend people they know IRL.
- Update: You can also grow your own “fish” now on Nicktopolis.
- Leakylounge.com: The forum attached to the Harry Potter fan site: The-Leaky-Cauldron.org (or leakynews.com) is a great place for tweens/teens to assert their Harry Potter knowledge on a caring and controlled atmosphere. The staff is made up of teachers, librarians, and kids themselves– everyone with the best interests of the community & Harry Potter nation at heart. **I would suggest that parents check the site out for themselves first. (Also worthy of noting: the community at Mugglenet.com, as this is FAN site meant for kids, and very popular, it’s worth your time. However, again, I suggest that parents check it out first.)
- Edgarandellen.com: A great website for fans of the Edgar & Ellen books & cartoons. They give fans the opportunity to give inspiring ideas that will affect the television show premiering this fall.
- Webkinz.com: A safe, fun interactive area for any kid that loves the plushies. In other words, webkinz are toys/plushies. You cannot log into the site without a code provided by your ‘adopted’ webkinz plushie. The art/animations feel VERY young to me (a bit carebears, a bit mother goose, a bit Hasbro’s Littlest Pet Shop), but I’ve got it on great advice from the tater tots at CLPD that it’s a fun site (as well as from guru Jake Mckee, thanks btw!). The registration is easy and easy to navigate.
- Neopets.com: This is a BIG hitter for kids (and some adults). Like “Webkinz” there is an adoption process, and the entire world hinges on taking care of your Neopet (not your typical standard animals). There is literally a WORLD of fun to navigate. Neopets (now owned by Viacom) appeals to many types of kids: the gamer, the social butterfly, the town member (running your own store), the treasue hunter, the explorer, the home-maker, and the future-animal-obsessed-vet. The games are expansive as well– MMORG wannabe games to addicting games (like blocks, I love blocks). There are sections of the world for pirate-enthusiasts, fairy-lovers, cave-dwellers, etc. Newsletters and guilds allow for individual empowerment. I’m not completely sold on the safety of this site yet. They’ve got attentive moderators, but in my past explorations of neopets I’ve seen a few yellow flag events. This site is huge and very fun for kids… I only suggest parents check it out and make sure they’re just as comfortable with it. In otherwords, it’s not a lock-down like Nicktropolis or VMK, but that’s not always a bad thing. At least it’s free!
- UPDATE: Unfortunately Neopets isn’t “all free” now with the addition of a Neopets Central Mall– which requires users to pay for items with tokens BOUGHT with real cash. Ugh. For parents who don’t like this kind of Virtual World Marketing, heads up.
- Trollz.com: I’m not a big trollz fan (I miss the ugly, naked, uni-gender Trollz of the good ole days). However, Trollz (as a product) are a lot better than Bratz (which also has a social network, but I am not a fan of encouraging little girls to grow up hoochie). Anyway, so the community is fun and light. You can befriend your friends, and that’s cool. It’s vibrant and colorful and safe. It’s also free. If your child is into Trollz, then they’ll dig this site (you get to make your own version of yourself as a Troll(z)). There are parental permissions and safety guidelines, which I dig.
- Disney Fairies: I love this website. I love it. In the pattern of IMBEE, this is a “my first social network.” Make a virtual fairy & virtual fairy home, choose from HUNDREDS of design variations, choose from HUNDREDS of pre-written slogans, quizes, polls, etc to decorate your fairy page (much like a myspace page, but pretty and fun and safe). Find your IRL friends, who leave prewritten comments on someone else’s page. Everyone’s personal page is marked by an address (7816 Pixiewillow Lane- not an exact example, but you get the point). It’s beautiful and exceptionally done– uber safe to a T. I drool when I think of this site. It’s something to be proud of! Well done, Disney.
- Disney’s DXD: Otherwise known as Disney’s Xtreme Digital (oooooo, feel the extremity of it when the “e” is dropped!) It’s a social networking PLATFORM– which means it gives portals to content like chat programs (like aim, but disney’s version) and multiplayer games and so on. It both notifies parents and needs parental permissions for free-chat (real life friends without predictive text). It’s brand spankin’ new, and it’s Disney, so you know it’s gotta be good if your a Disney fan (be ready for the marketing machine).
- Lego.com: This site is GREAT for any lego-maniacs (thanks for reminding me, Jake! My godson LOVES this site). They don’t collect much information (no emails or real names), and EVERYTHING is eyeballed by moderators (yahoooo!). Their message board is uber-successful. If you dig legos, if your kids dig legos, I would recommend this site with a big grin.
- Update: Word on the street is that Lego is building a virtual world. Keep your eyes sharp.
- Tygirls.com: I’ve not really seen “Tygirls” before (Ty– as in the Beanie Babies Ty company). I’m not overly excited about the design or characters (they’re not as unique/original as some of the other brands/communities out there). HOWEVER! It is a safe website. And it seems to have a fully monitored forum. So if your child wants a ultra-pink site to visit and have a little elbow room (instead of some of these virtual worlds/flash-heavy communities that are lagging & stalling do to high numbers), this might be the place to send her.
- Girlsense.com: COPPA compliant and safe, this site is great for 12+ year old girls. It’s got a funky feel with some avatar coolness (i love my avatar) and the ability to chat with friends that you KNOW. These chats are not monitored, so that’s something to take note of… but the site over all is cool for girly teens (older tweens) chock full of fashion, cutesy-advice. They notify parents with all kid-information, so parents can keep an eye on their tater tots. There are games and other fun stuff.
- Allykatzz.com: Another rockin’ site for tweens is Allykatzz.com– it’s quite a bit different from the previous communities. UBER-safe (completely moderated), it has this close-knit feeling… organic and honest. Girls can write blog topics, have others write back, and get advice from the older kids. Pictures can be uploaded– but there’s a catch. You can’t upload any dangerous pics (identifiably dangerous, that is), and if you wanna upload yourself you need your hands over your face– which seems like a fair trade, and actually a funny catch. The site offers clubs, ecards, downloadables, etc. My favorite part is the three-strikes-you’re-out “mean girls” catch. This is a family created/originated site and NOT a branded/conglomerate property site (v. cool). A team of moderators work hard to keep a healthy, organic community… Can’t ask for anything better than that.
- PBS’s Backyard jungle: You and your child can log into this eco-friendly site, give very little info (likes/dislikes, all very vague), build a backyard, explore other’s backyards, etc. It’s fun, educational, nature-y, and safe! Check it out. It’s one of my parent-friendly educationally-friend favorites.
- Yomod: Yomod (from Yomod LLC) is a great new community for the tweenie boppers– fully moderated with a strong entry barrier for safety. It is a stage for UGC videos (a much better option then youtube for the tater tots) and kid blogs. The sign in process is a parent-needed process as the good ole credit card check is in play (making it difficult for kiddies to sneak through). It’s a great site for kids of the multi-media talent online.
- kidzbop: It’s like a Karaoke Youtube site for kids– fully moderated, and very VERY little room for personal information. Parents need to give their thumbs-up for their child to join. It’s a fun site with info on tours, some easy games, kid videos (upload your own, or highlight someone else’s), contests, and parents section. You can make friends with random other kids on the site, but you can’t really talk to them… so it’s a nice little lock box.
- MokiTown: It’s a “safety initiative” and worldly (I think there are some German mods on there). But over all– it has a Bob the Builder meets Lego feel to it. Kids are encouraged to be active. Parents are offered LOADS of information. It’s worth checking out!
- Webbliworld: A great new site for the younger kids– great for ages 6 – 10!! It’s heavily moderated and they’ve gone to extra lengths to stay FIRM and SOLID on that fact. Right now there is only the opportunity for kids to create a profile based on their likes/dislikes and their cool little tinker-toy-esque avatar. Soon, however, there is supposedly a Virtual World/platform planned.
- Galaxyseeds: This is a GREAT MMOG for kids looking for gaming, community, and a unique virtual world to explore. The aesthetics are bright and fun– and completely appropriate for 9/10/11/12 year boys AND girls who have interests in the futuristic/Space fantasy. Everything is uber-safe: canned messages (pre-written words, etc), and pre-moderated forums. They are COPPA compliant, and do a great job at making the sign-in registration process clear through explanations. Plus– it’s FREE. Nice.
- Cartoon Doll Emporium: Anime-lovers be happy! Finally we have a great website (with community elements) for you (mainly girls) fans who love anime & fantasy. The site offers games, doll-avatars, contest, forums, etc. And it is VERY COPPA compliant (rock on). It’s pink and happy and filled with fantastical imagination (in anime form).
- iCarly: Nickelodeon kids cheer! Breaking free from it’s Nickelodeon-foundation (usually Nick only wants its shows on its Nick.com site, understandably). Kids can upload various UGC elements and they can be featured on TV!! Having played with the UGC function myself– it is pretty safe/sound. Every element uploaded on the computer has to go through the parent before getting viewed by icarly staff– VERY smart (no second guessing on credit there). The blog entries are pretty good… personally I LOVE the entries by Carly’s big bro– he’s hilarious. There are a few games on the site, and it’s relatively goofy– and not uber-forward/flashy/gaudy/etc like some of the sites are these days. It almost feels a bit fischer price, but I still dig it and your kids will too if they’re fans of the show. :)
- Barbiegirls: Oh, the Barbie brand lives on!! It’s safe and mostly free. Parents have to approve the level at which their children can communicate with IRL friends– but VW friends are all safe/predictive text. The avatar system is fun and totally lends itself to the dress up play pattern of the Barbie brand. To get the “extended” features, the user must purchase the MP3 player, amongst other Barbie goodies. In the war of dress up virtual worlds/dolls– this one gets my top vote.
- Be-bratz: Safe, doll play virtual world based on the Bratz doll craze. Not a big fan of the brand at all (hoochie mentality), but the site is fine. Kids can’t get in without buying the 40$ bratz doll. Oh well.
- Myepets: Little bro to the Bratz brand is Myepets– a pet care based virtual world. You must buy a Myepet doll and get the code (ala Webkinz) to play. It’s safe and parents dictate the level at which kids can chat.
- Littlest Pet Shop: Not quite a community world yet (still in beta), this will be a great world for pet care play in the virtual set. I’d pick this brand over myepets every day– if only for the longevity & originality of the overall brand. The pets are cute and it does promote good eating and good behavior. Must by the stuffed animal to join (and they’re hard to get your hands on these days).
- Beacon Street Girls: The Beacon Street Girls have JUST relaunched their site with community features– allowing fans of the Beacon Street Girls books an opportunity to feel a part of the story! The registration process is great and straight forward, and BSC does a great job of being completely COPPA friendly & safe. They’ve contests on the site and some games that correlate to the stories. The part I dig??? THE CHARACTERS TAKE THE TIME TO RESPOND TO FAN COMMENTS. I’m telling you– for uber-fans? That means a lot. There’s a lot of places Beacon Street Girls’ site and go, and I’m sure it’s just the beginning for the digital aspect of the story and no doubt will continue to grow over time!
- Shining Stars: LIKE WEBKINZ, Shining Stars is another “buy product, get code, enter world” Virtual Experience. Instead of chat– it’s more of a profile builder & doll experience. The cool addition is the ability to “make” videos (pre-created installments to plug into a program & create “own” story?).
- Lola’s World: It’s a companion community with vw-elements for tween girls based on the Lola, Think Pink, books. It launches in April 08.
- WePlay: A sports community for youth, couches, and parents.
- Ourworld: A tween community for socializing, clothes, and games. Has unique user interface, and they’ve safely retracted youtube videos into their site (better to watch them here than at youtube). And the environment is interesting. It’s safe, although I’m not a fan of using an email (one time collection) as login. They do seek parents verification consistently.
- Tikatok: a community for young writers who want to see their stories published.
I CONTINUOUSLY ADD MORE SITES AS THEY MOVE OUT OF BETA
(OR BECOME SOMEWHAT BETA-ESTABLISHED)!
So check back. And if you have community sites that I’ve not mentioned PLEASE add them in the comments –And remember, I’m looking for sites appropriate for kids under the age of 13.
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