Kids want to explore and you want them to say safe. So what you're looking for is a free virtual world for kids. Virtual Worlds are sites where groups of people take on a different persona and interact online.
There are usually games, social activities, and a point/currency system. Whether your kids prefer pets or penguins, chatting or simply playing games, there are sites to appeal to a wide variety of personalities. Parents should take the time to find a site that matches their overall safety concerns, interests of their children and, sometimes, their budget (not everything is free). These virtual worlds are appropriate for younger kids and pre-teens.
Webkinz is one of the best known virtual worlds for kids. Owned by the makers of the Ganz stuffed animals, players can feed and dress their pets, as well as decorate their virtual world.
Games vary from simple arcade activities to more educational trivia quizzes. Webkinz can take on jobs, go to school, or just hang out with friends. A purchase is required to access the website (one Webkinz animal provides a one-year subscription to the site).
Recommended for ages 6 and up.
Disney-owned Club Penguin is a virtual world where users go around as penguins. They can play games, chat, and decorate their igloos. Anyone can use Club Penguin for free, but many of the features are available only to paying members.
Club Penguin is recommended for ages 7-14.
National Geographic's Animal Jam is a virtual world with a subscription option. It allows kids to pick and customize an animal avatar. After that, they're free to explore Animal Jam's environment.
This world is full of animal facts and video games. The game has parental controls and reading is required.
Geared toward ages 5-10.
Make your own stuffed animal and dress them up in cute little outfits at Build-a-Bearville from the folks at Build-a-Bear Workshop.
The site is free, although certain features require a purchase. If you purchase a Build-a-Bear in real life, you can "claim" your friend online, which unlocks certain options. If you purchased a Build-a-Bear prior to October, 2007, you can get an access code at a Build-a-Bear Workshop store.
This site is most appropriate for ages 7 and up.
Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures is a virtual world that invites you into the Star Wars environment to engage with all of your favorite characters.
While this website is free, there is plenty of pressure and incentive to upgrade in order to unlock additional activities and objects. Still, it may be enough for your kids (or you) to hang out with Yoda and Obi-Wan.
Clone Wars Adventures is best for ages 8 and up, although younger fans will love it, too.
Secret Builders is a strange and unconventional virtual world. Focusing a lot of time and attention on culture and learning, you get to join conversations with William Shakespeare or Sherlock Holmes.
It's certainly unique in the realm of kids' virtual worlds so far. Secret Builders is currently free to play.
Secret Builders is recommended for kids ages 6-14.
While the target market for BarbieGirls is obviously girls, anyone can have a great time playing with Mattel's popular fashion doll.
You can dress up your BarbieGirl and take her to the movies or to a coffee shop to chat with friends. Barbie can also dress up Ken, do her nails and create a song. The site is free, but there are additional features available to girls who own Barbie Girls devices.
The Barbie Girls site is recommended for girls 7-12.