by Brandy D. Anderson
Nowadays, kids are so inundated with social media on an ongoing basis (at school, with friends, even walking down the street), that it’s no surprise that most of them want to join in the craze and play at home, too. It can be difficult to know which sites are okay to let your kids play on. The good news is that I’ve researched and compiled the four best sites for your preschoolers through preteens to get their social media fix.
This Disney site is great for preschoolers up through ages seven or eight. Filtered chat is available (with the option of choosing ‘Ultimate Safe Chat Mode’), and players can socialize with other players as they roam about the rather extensive world. You play as a cute little penguin which you can customize in a ton of different ways and each player also gets his/her own igloo home which can also be tricked out. There are more than twenty mini-games, a ton of scavenger hunts, tasks, and maps to be explored. Players have the option of becoming a secret agent, which unlocks extra games and other features should you choose to undergo training (plus your character will get a pair of really cool sunglasses).
There are shops where you can purchase (with in-game money) decorations for your igloo, clothes for your penguin, and, best of all, cute furry little “puffles”. The puffles are great because they’re not only fun, but they also have to be taken care of. Players must feed their puffles, bathe them, and play with them. There are at least ten different kinds, and each species (colour) has its own set of personalities and features. There are different theme days, community events, and players have the option of “friending” each other, which just means they can see if one another is online when playing and they can go to each other’s igloos. Club Penguin is free with the option of upgrading to a membership for extra perks ($7.95/month).
This is another fun social media world in the same vein as Club Penguin, but this one offers more diverse content (different animals, different habitats, and so on). For your character, you can choose to be either a wolf, a rabbit, a koala, a tiger, a seal, a panda, a monkey, a bunny, or a penguin. As you progress through the game you’ll have options to change your animal avatar (to a horse, fox, butterfly, chicken, etc). Chat is filtered.
There are a ton of mini-games and each one features really cool animal facts (some games have pop-up factoids whenever you level up, some save the info for the end). The game “Twister” is particularly fun and the artwork is really cool. There are events and “parties” for players to join in, like the fun Summer Carnival where you can print activity pictures (mazes, colouring pages, image games), and carnival shops where players can “buy” items with in-game money. One of the neatest things about Animal Jam is the level of interaction between the game-makers and players, with windows to the side which players can click on and type in ideas for future features they would like to see in the game. Other parties happen every so often with a counter-clock indicating the beginning of the next theme.
This one is for older kids and is more targeted for the tweens to young teens set. There’s a handy tutorial when you first register which teaches you how to use the site. As a bonus, this site features a nice diversity in avatar ethnicities, a feature which is unfortunately all-too-lacking on many avatar sites. The chatting option here is interesting. Safe chat is always enacted, with certain words being blocked, and you can only chat after you’ve earned your “chat license”.
A chat license is earned by taking a safety quiz. Questions include a few references to in-game jargon, but mostly it covers safety tips for when using chat. The first question asks you what your phone number is, then you choose the best response out of four options (ask what their number is, ask them why they’re asking, set them to silent, or report the person). It also shows you how to “vaporize silence”, which allows you to easily make it so you don’t have to see any more chats from that user. Players make their own human avatars and the customization options are almost endless. There are games and activities which can be played by spending in-game currency (pearls and clams). A fun option for players is the ability to start your own Whyville business where you can design game features and offer them to other players for the price of a few clams.
Secret Builders is a fun, interactive cartoony game geared towards ages eight to twelve years old. You begin by making a human avatar, and one of the things I love about this one is that there are no gender biases in the choices; meaning, you can make a character with long hair and thin lips, or thick lips with a short crop, you can wear a shirt with a skirt, a blouse with blue jeans, etc. In a world where specific gender roles are constantly being force-fed to kids from a young age, it’s refreshing to see a break from that.
This game is pretty awesome. You can visit exotic places and, best of all, you learn a lot as you play. For instance, if you go to the Magic Bazaar you’ll run into Cao Xuequin, the famous Chinese writer from the Qing Dynasty, and famous Chinese scholar and poet, Qu Yuan. You also have the option of taking short, fun quizzes based on the bio information for each historical figure, and you earn coins for each correct answer. There’s also a Bookworms land where you can read, and hear, different book selections (it’s currently a Sherlock Holmes story), take book quizzes, and check out literary Easter eggs. You can also play mini-games in many of the lands, like the game for Annie Oakley where you go skeet shooting.