Are Webkinz just Crummy or a Tool to Use?

David Warlick's great spam blocker ATE my comment but I just had to respond to his post and the growing comments about his thoughts on Webkinz today in Are They Working on Their Reading?

“Again, it’s critical that children learn to sing, play with other children, build with blocks, play in the sand, and read books. But I wonder how learning to read, within the context of these online experiences, might differ from how we traditionally learn. For this four-year-old, reading almost immediately becomes a tool that improves his experience. It’s a skill that he uses to work his environment and, in this case, feed his pet, buy cloths, interact with and impress other children, and teach and learn.”

Some comments:

Gary Stager says:

“I’m with you on reading, but what is really social about using your toy in conjunction with anonymous others in really primitive cheaply produced software? How is this richer than playing with dolls/animals/blocks/cars/the long-gone imaginative play/dressup corner in bygone classrooms?
Have you seen the Webkinz software? It makes Math Blaster look like high art.
Webkinz is undeniably a brilliant stroke of tschochke marketing. Kids may even love them.

However, isn’t there a danger of projecting too much educational and sociological significance onto an elephant purchased in an airport gift shop?? Just because some of
us found a voice online does not mean that everything changes.”

I tried to say:

“My daughter and many others at our school love webkinz. And I think perhaps that Gary thinks the software is “crumby” because he is not the demographic target. The target is kids and they love it.

My 10th graders used the Webkinz to create an online safety course for our elementary school and it was an incredible success! We are planning a follow up! The students can still remember everything they were taught: do not share passwords, only add friends that you verify via voice, and other things about safety that were intertwined into the course.

Anything can be used to teach if it is planned and thought through and adapted for what it does well.

This is how our children relate to one another it is part of their lives. They also congregate on xbox live, play each other's Mii's and all sorts of things that take them out of their cocoon. However, we cannot discount their experience as a valid one. Yes, they still need exercise and to be well rounded.

What bothers me is why older generations always feel that the younger generation is only valid if the younger childhood relates to their own. I can remember my parents “kicking me off” sesame street telling me to go play outside.

Let them be who they are and join them. It is fun and we might learn something. Or we can just stomp our feet and say “be like me” as they look the other way and laugh.

Listen. Learn. Help the students be what they should be. Listen to what they say about what they are doing. We might all learn something about how to be better teachers and to relate better to today's student.”

I just tire of the generation gap thing. I play Webkinz with my daughter and am proud of it. There must be those of us that bridge the divide and figure out ways to use what kids love to our advantage and to teach.

In our class we also taught about the importance of using a timer and doing other things and use several examples of people getting “lost in the net.” The tenth graders also talked about obesity and the sedentary lifestyle.

And they had their rapt attention because they used Webkinz to do it. It would take 10th graders to do it that way. It was genius.

Gary is not the only one I've heard criticize such things. Just think and look and learn.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Farfisa January 25, 2008 - 4:31 am

I watched my 11yo play Webkinz the other day. He was aiming to collect %-off coupons and calculating how many coupons would add up, which furniture he wanted, which discount would be best applied to which piece for maximum effect, whether he could stack coupons (which led to the 50% + 20% does not = 70% discussion…)

What a great math lesson!

Doug Belshaw January 25, 2008 - 6:57 am

I hear you, Vicki. I think you’re saying that it’s the pedagogy behind the tool that matters; we just use a particular tool because it engages learners and/or has a low entry/high exit point (Skitch being a great case in point)

I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it fairly annoying when those no longer in the classroom such as Stager make such pronouncements…

Megan Fritz January 25, 2008 - 11:54 am

I agree Vicki….I sat up playing Webkinz games last night to earn my daughter points….but that’s not the point!!! It really is teaching them responsibility, community, kindness, etc. She sends notes and has to read the text to make sure it’s what she wants to say. She then knows to send a thank you note (which as a result she wanted to do after receiving he xmas gifts) to her friend. However, it has to be used in the correct way – not as a babysitting tool. I don’t know that I agree with it being used in the classroom/computer lab. I definitely feel that it is a tool to be used at home to reinforce these important “social” concepts. On the other hand, though….I love how you used it w/ the older students. This is really meaningful learning! PS I just can’t wait to see my daughter’s (4) face when she gets the Love Frog for Valentine’s Day!

LKP January 25, 2008 - 2:50 pm

I also am proud to say I play Webkinz with my 10 year old son! We love the quiz game and often do the higher age group together, he is good at the Science and I’m good at the Language Arts, so we learn together. The lesson I think he gets the most from playing this game is a sense of creating a community, deciding what would be best to “buy” for his pets and how to earn the money to get those things that enhance the life of his pet. Now, does he play it all the time? NO! He logs on probably three times a week, which is just fine with me. I think that you can find some value in most of the “games” our kids play online or on Wii or Xbox, you just have to approach it with an idea of what can we do today that we couldn’t do yesterday, and yes he needs to get outside and play that is why his “game” time both on the computer and on the Wii are limited. We need to use the things that our kids are drawn to positively because that will teach them the responsible way to discover the internet and all it’s wonders. Just my 2 cents!

Karen Bosch January 25, 2008 - 11:25 am

I am teaching an after school class with 2nd and 3rd graders on “Safe Online Communities for Kids and will are going to use Webkinz next week. So I have been spending a lot of time there playing with my pink poodle over the past few weeks! (I spent several hours yesterday adopting Webkinz for the class.) There are many things there of educational value, I think. Some of the games practice math, reading, science, social studies, and even keyboarding skills. I even think the earning kinzcash and buying items for your house teaches economics in a practical way on a kids level. Plus, it’s fun!

I asked some fourth graders to come in at recess to give me some Webkinz lessons last week. They said that they taught themselves how to do the games and to use the community without adult help. It also was interesting that they said they spend 2 to 3 hours daily on Webkinz – not sure that part is so great, but if they are going to be online playing games, I think Webkinz is a more constructive option than a lot of other places, at least for that age level.

Do you have any of your Webkinz lessons/resources that your older student created online? If so, could you direct me to where they are – I’d love to take a look!

Janet Clarey January 25, 2008 - 5:42 pm

Re: I just tire of the generation gap thing…Ditto.
I also play Webkinz with my kids. I have one and my 8 year old plays with his own but also keeps mine happy – very nurturing, fun games, safe.

KKoz January 25, 2008 - 3:03 pm

I agree! Kudos to all of you talking about pedagogy and balance. That’s really what we need to be talking about! My 7 yr. old loves webkins and I used him to teach my graduate students about virtual worlds and how they could be used to design multimedia learning.

Mrs. Keuhn January 25, 2008 - 10:33 pm

There are those of us playing Xbox with our kids too!! My son wanted to learn to read because we played Breath of Fire on the Super Nintendo. I used to read him the story (it’s an rpg) and he used to comment that he couldn’t wait to learn to read so he could play himself. I IM both my daughters and my mother when I’m working at the college. I love the idea of your safety course!

Kathy March 11, 2008 - 12:42 am

I think it is essential to harness the enthusiasm kids have for their toys and turn them into learning tools.

Check out how I am trying to take my 15 years of teaching experience and help other teachers accomplish this:

Kathy March 11, 2008 - 12:43 am

We really need to figure out a way to harness the enthusiasm kids have for their toys and turn them into learning tools. I’ve been taking my 15 years of teaching experience and creating this type of information to share:


Duncan Conner March 19, 2008 - 10:51 am

Couldn’t agree more with other comments. I should come clean and state that I’m a Webkinz retailer, but I should also point out that I’ve got a Panda stashed away for my eldest daughter’s birthday (tomorrow) and I can’t wait to get started playing online with her.

Aside from the educational aspects of Webkinz World, which really appeal to me, it’s a great way of getting her familiar with and interested in the workings of a PC and the internet – something which our children will likely spend their whole working lives around.

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