Well, I now have a great suggestion for mothers of girls age 7-12. It's a site called Always Icecream that I had the privilege to review for the TOS Homeschool Crew, and I have to tell you I am definitely sold on the concept. At Always Icecream girls, and only girls, can log on, play educational games, take care of virtual pets, decorate their online space and interact with other girls in a safe and friendly environment! In fact, they advertise that they have been "certified by the Privo Privacy Assurance Program to be in compliance with the rigorous standards defined in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)." I think it is the perfect way to introduce young girls to the social networking aspects of the web without the fear of them coming in contact with predators or even just hearing inappropriate conversations. At Always Icecream, all communication and media is monitored and parents can view friendships and customize whether or not children can even participate in the social aspects of the website. You have codes that you give your real life friends so you can be assured that anyone who has unlimited communication is really someone you know. You can read more about their safety features at their website.
Ok, I know, you are thinking, so fine, it's safe, it's really safe, but what does this place look like and what do the kids do? Well, there are tons of things really! One of the social things is that you get to set up your avatar (no real life images) and make your personal page to let others know a little bit about you, such as you favorite ice cream, book, movie, etc. You can also say what's on your mind and pick (or make up) your "motto." Here is Gess adjusting the look on her avatar.
Now, there are tons of educational games you can play, and when you play those games you earn scoops of ice cream. When you click on the Learn and Play button you come to a menu that has lots of games. I love the way the menu (and the whole site) is very visually appealing. It's not small lists of little games, but larger images letting you see what you can choose from. You will notice that the games that earn you scoops have an ice cream cone on top of the image.
There are games in Language Arts, Basic and Advanced Math, Science, Bible, Geography, Typing and more. Gess loves Science and one of her favorite games was one on anatomy where you had to identify the body parts, and we are talking about the parts inside as well as out. You have to click on your ear, foot, kidney, things like that.
As you can see on the bar in the left, you earn medals after you reach so many levels. It appears Gess is up to a silver medal in anatomy! Typing and Geography are some other games you can choose from.
Now that you have played these games and earned some scoops of ice cream you can go spend them. One thing you get to do is decorate your virtual room. Here is the little pad Gess is setting up.
Oh, and another thing that is really neat is the artwork that you can put in your room. You can either make the artwork yourself or you can purchase artwork that some of the other girls have made! Gess has actually sold a piece of her artwork earning 30 scoops of ice cream! How cool is that?
Another thing you can spend scoops on is hatching and raising pets. Gess didn't really get into this at first, but now she seems to just love taking care of them. Of course, she has to remember to do it. The poor things were out of love and food when we checked in, but that's OK. She had plenty of scoops to get them back on track. Here is her turtle Mario after she gave him some tender loving care.
I do have to admit, Gess had some struggles with the site at first and for awhile she didn't find it very fun, but I think that was mostly because of her special needs. She just didn't seem to care too much about socializing or doing any of the activities that you actually get to spend scoops on. So the motivation for her is a little tougher. And while the games are cute, they aren't as interactive as she would like them to be, and many of them are too advanced anyway. However, after we played together for awhile and she saw how things like the pets worked and what they did, she started to enjoy it more. So while I am anxious about the ability of this website to help teach my child online social skills, because of her special needs she really isn't all that interested in being "social" online yet (which is alright by me!). For girls who are though, this is an excellent and safe way to let them learn! Either way there is plenty of enjoyment to be had whether you choose to interact with others, or not.
Now Always Icecream does have a fee, but I agree with them that is absolutely necessary to ensure the site's safety. It costs money to make and maintain an online game and you basically have two options of gathering revenue for such a site. One is to charge a fee and the other other is through add revenue. On their website they say, "we don’t want to depend on ads to pay for site improvements since ads lead to external sites at which we cannot control the content." And that is absolutely true. With that in mind I think that the fee they require is really reasonable. You can get an account for girls ages 7-12 for only $4.99 a month, $29.99 per year or $99.99 for a lifetime. There is also a way to try out some of the features for free. Personally I would rather pay a small fee and have the peace of mind knowing that my daughter is in a safe and happy online community. To learn more visit Always Icecream or see what other crew members had to say about it at the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog.
As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew I received a lifetime membership to Always Icecream for giving my honest opinion and assessment of this product in my review.