Online Virtual Worlds for Tweens

Building Avatars and Playing Games

Virtual worlds are online destinations in which players can explore, play games, interact, and win prizes. Most virtual worlds encourage players to create avatars, which are virtual versions of themselves. Avatars are usually endowed with characteristics selected by the player. While virtual worlds created for adults can contain violent or sexual content, worlds created for children are intended to be fun, cute, and non-threatening. Most such kid-friendly worlds are also designed to be safe; players are not able to interact with one another except in the most controlled manner.

Tweens are stuck in that place between being a little kid and being a teenager. They are still drawn to some of the things that appeal to the younger set, but also want more sophisticated options and a bit more freedom. The content of these virtual worlds is kid-friendly but unlike those created for young children they offer more opportunities for chatting and more complex navigation. They are typically geared towards kids ages 10 to 14.

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Secret Builders

What We Like

  • Moderators are vigilant about keeping the fun clean for kids.

  • Teaches financial responsibility in addition to other educational elements.

What We Don't Like

  • Dating elements are questionable and heteronormative.

  • Blocking specific players should be easier.

Secret Builders is an unconventional virtual world, in a good way. Focusing a lot of time and attention on culture, creativity, and learning, tweens get to join conversations with William Shakespeare or Sherlock Holmes. Secret Builders is recommended for kids ages 6-14. It has won awards from the National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA).

Secret Builders is currently free to play. An optional subscription brings advantages such as virtual money that a parent can give their child for good real-world behavior and in-game virtual money to spend on member-only items.

Besides interacting with historical and fictional characters, tweens can do many activities. These include submitting creative writing for comment, playing art-related games, quests focusing on classic literature, and contests. This virtual world builds computer literacy and logic skills.

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What We Like

  • Kids can create their own custom avatars.

  • Includes resources for parents and educators.

What We Don't Like

  • Navigating the website can be difficult due to the overwhelming amount of content.

  • Some of the games lack instructions.

Whyville is one of the oldest virtual worlds for kids, going strong with major sponsors for over 19 years. Whyville is free to join and easy to get started. Avatars are basically floating heads and it's a popular spot for tweens to chat, with community management controls to keep it safe. Tweens can play over 100 games and explore areas of Whyville from the beach to the woods, or just hang by the pool or waterfall.

Whyville has quite a bit of educational content ranging from art appreciation to physics. Tweens can get involved in Whyville's government or read and write for the Whyville Times. They can buy and sell items. With the CDC as a sponsor, they can even get involved in controlling disease spread and developing a vaccine. Teachers can use Whyville in classroom activities.