Undercover Mom in Poptropica, Part 1: Virtual World with educational elements
I chose Poptropica.com as the
site of my latest undercover mom investigation because of its
first-place ranking in the 5-to-10-year-old bracket. With 20 million
unique accounts and counting, it is indeed a heavy hitter in the
burgeoning childrenís virtual world market.
But I was also
intrigued by the Poptropica's educational spin. The site's parent
company is Family Education Network (FEN), developers of one of my
favorite teaching resources, Funbrain.com. As worthy a site as Funbrain
may be, however, itís not the kind a kid would visit voluntarily
without the urging of a parent, educator, or academic tutor. Could a
childrenís Web site as hopping as Poptropica possibly be on the same
educational plain as Funbrain? I was determined to find out what kind
of fare this populous virtual world was really serving up. What I Liked About Poptropica
In contrast to some children's virtual worlds that are essentially
animated chatrooms, Poptropica consists of a collection of uniquely
themed islands with equally unique underlying storylines. Shark Tooth
Island, for example, has a distinctly reggae-like feel and is being
tormented by a vicious shark. Time Tangled Island is set 50 years in
the future (complete with a wrinkled, decrepit version of your avatar)
and revolves around a malfunctioning time machine that has distorted
Whatever the island's particular problem may be, it's up to you, the
kid, to find the solution. Such active quests engage children from the
get-go while minimizing boredom-induced troublemaking behaviors such as
cyberbullying. I was also pleased to find a virtual world where kids'
ultimate purpose was something besides getting and spending money.
Helpful, Directive Avatars.
Logging onto a virtual world for the first time can be a confounding
and oddly isolating experience. Poptropica takes good care of its
"newbies" by sending out resident avatars to greet kids and give them
the skinny on the particular mission at hand. These avatars also
provide players with clues and props to assist in their mystery-busting
Unlike many virtual worlds that offer the option of free (albeit
monitored) chat, Poptropica conversation is limited to a series of
pre-selected drop-down questions and answers. While such constraints
might feel like a straitjacket in more schmoozing-focused virtual
worlds, it works nicely in Poptropica. Kidsí interactions remain
positive and upbeat while the pre-set choices teach children how to
engage in socially appropriate conversation in virtual worlds at large.
I was happy to discover that Poptropica does indeed boast an admirable
educational dimension. Kids travel back in time and meet historical
figures like Leonardo daVinci and Thomas Edison. They traipse through
Aztec Ruins and learn about the dorsal fins of Great White sharks.
Children who want to learn more about a particular subject can click a
button that links them directly to more info at FEN's FactMonster.com.
Next week: What I'm not so crazy about in Poptropica.
Sharon Duke Estroff is an award-winning educator and author of "Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah? (Random House, 2007). Her parenting articles appear in over 100 publications including Scholastic Parent and Child, Parents, Good Housekeeping, and Woman's Day. She is a parenting blogger for Huffington Post. Sharon is the creator of CHALLENGE ISLAND enrichment classes, camps, and birthday parties which provide imagination-fueled learning adventures to children while fostering their critical and creative thinking skills.