[Editor’s Note: Time for another Family Web Weekend post! At Graduation this past weekend, and was reminded of the kids and families that support our students and teachers. So this article is quite relevant! It was written by Marla Cartwright, Faculty Development Coordinator at Kaplan University’s Center for Teaching and Learning. The Innovations Lab does not endorse specific merchants or vendors. This post is informational.]
Webkinz are fuzzy-wuzzy stuffed critters that you may have heard the kids in your life talking about. But as cute and cuddly as these stuffed animals are, it’s the Webkinz website that kids are crazy about. Think of it as the Beanie Babies meet Second Life.
Webkinz.com describes the toys as “lovable, plush pets that each come with a unique Secret Code” and while the toys themselves are well constructed and reasonably priced, the code is the cool factor. With this code, your child can log into Webkinz world and explore a lush virtual world that rivals those created for the older set.
I admit, as a mom, I was a bit skeptical at first, assuming that the site would be nothing more than an online high-pressure sales environment barking at my kids to buy more stuff (a la Buzzsaw Louie in the animated move, “The Toy That Saved Christmas” when Louie says, “You need more toys! And that’s the *true* meaning of Christmas!”)
But I was wrong.
Instead, Webkinz offers a lush, Crayola-colored, thoughtfully produced online environment where kids can safely play games with their virtual pets and sharpen their parenting skills — you have to house, feed, clothe and educate your pet (when they get sick, off to Dr. Quack they go). And just like in the real world, you have to work a job to earn money and buy cool stuff. But it’s totally worth it because when you log in, your pets thank you with a warm welcome and red animated hearts flutters up to you . . . awwww.
And, sure, new items are mentioned on the site, but in a casual way. Plus the developers do a great job of keeping the site fresh and interesting with seasonal activities like the recent Winterfest and new games launching on a regular basis. These games galore include spelling, reading and critical thinking activities in addition to skill-based competitions that you can play alone or with others synchronously logged into Webkinz. Webkinz offers two levels of chat security:
KinzChat — where the user can only converse with others online using a selection of prewritten phrases; this is the default which is a smart move on their part.
KinzChat Plus — here users can type in their own words, but all content goes through two filters for safety, combing for self-identifying information, phone numbers, referencing to other instant messaging tools as well
as no objectionable words or phrases. Usage of this level must be specifically selected.
Not only is their attention to safety appealing to parents, but the site has a lovely charm that shows they understand kids’ fancies — zany, Dr. Suess-like elements like tricked-out holiday furniture (Halloween bed, anyone?), hot air balloons so pets can float inside and outside their cute houses and even. . . pretzel windows!
All this careful community building has resulted in what Joe Pulizzi of Junta42 calls, “the greatest example of a successful content marketing website in the world”. He cites a recent BusinessWeek article chalking Webkinz annual sales in excess of $100 million.
Not bad for being cute and cuddly.