Many of the products I've reviewed so far this year have been geared specifically for homeschoolers. Recently, however, we've been playing around with a website that could be a lot of fun for any child, homeschooled or not.
Tiny Planets is an award-winning website providing educational entertainment for children from ages 4 to 12. I tried it out with my 4 and 9 year olds. My 12 year old tried it briefly, but she much prefers to spend her computer time keeping up with her friends from back in DC and working on their blog.
Lauren (4 years old) spent most of her time watching the TV episodes. I watched a few of the short episodes and was reminded of the Disney movie Wall-E -- the action is portrayed through the character's actions and various sound effects, not dialogue. She seemed to enjoy the shows, but at this age, she prefers the familiar characters she already watches on TV. She plays computer games on other websites, but most of the ones offered on Tiny Planets were still too difficult for her to manage.
Brennan (9 years old) was drawn to the large selection of video games. I later went back and played nearly all of the games myself. I was surprised and pleased to find such a large selection of non-violent games. As far as I saw, none of the games involved shooting or fighting. Some followed the fairly typical video game pattern of maneuvering among platforms without getting bumped by the bad creatures, but I found a few games that were more intellectually challenging than most I've seen online. In particular, Star Fractions involved putting broken star pieces back together, and the Building Game required the player to piece together pipes that would connect certain places on the gameboard.
A big part of Tiny Planets is the My Tiny Planets area. It reminds me a lot of the Webkinz world that was all the rage around our house last year. You create and take care of your own planet. As you navigate around Central Space you can play mini-games, solve galactic missions, and earn stars. The stars allow you to personalize the planet, similar to the way my children once built mansions for their Webkinz pets.
Tiny Planets also has ebooks and a learning area. For younger children, a parent (or older sibling) would need to read the book because it does not have an audio option. The learning area has downloadable worksheets covering such skills as letters, numbers, basic addition, and a couple of easy craft. I never did show Lauren the learning area because I know that she would have wanted to print page after page of the gorgeous full-color worksheets.
Most of the activities on Tiny Planets are offered free of charge. Some of the TV episodes and ebooks are only available by purchasing keys. Ten keys (enough to buy one TV episode or a book) costs $1.95. They offer package deals with more keys -- 25 keys for $3.95 or 85 keys for $9.95.
I was very impressed with all that children can do when they visit Tiny Planets. For children that play online often, this site would be a fun change of pace. Tiny Planets will definitely stay bookmarked on my computer so that my children can have easy access to this again.
You can see what other homeschool parents thought about the Tiny Planets website on The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew blog.