Do you ever say to yourself, "Why didn't I think of this or that- I could be a multimillionaire..?" This past weekend I was kid-sitting my 7 and 9 year old niece and nephew, Alena & Nicholas. Along with all the usual junk they bring when they stay overnight, they brought two cute stuffed animals that they informed me are Webkinz and proceeded to introduce me to the incredible Webkinz online world in which they adopt and name their animal and bring it to life! Each Webkinz come with a code that can be used to enter the online world where they can buy food or toys for their pet, take their pet to the vet, decorate their pet’s room, build things, interact with each other, or play educational games to earn Kinzcash to buy more things or save in their virtual bank.
The target group are boys and girls aged 6 to 13, kids who are digital natives; growing up used to computers and the Internet. Monitored by the Canadian parent company, Ganz Inc., the site combines popular online trends such as social networking and instant messaging using preset phrases. However, it is safe for kids, free from advertising and no personal information is required to register with strict limits on how much time kids can spend on any activity.
The value of the exact market hasn't yet been tallied, but a report by Packaged Facts counted 29 million U.S. kids ages 8 to 14, with a combined annual purchasing power of $40 billion are interacting in this clever virtual world.
"In less than two years, Webkinz has become must-have, just by word of mouth. In 18 months over a million and a half users are registered on the site. The past Christmas period resulted in a growth to 2.3 million visitors. To put that growth rate in perspective, it took Second Life three years to attract the first million residents to its virtual universe. Between April 2006 and January 2007 kids spent an average of two hours per visit on Webkinz. YouTube, by contrast, averaged 32 minutes per visit during the same period, while Club Penguin averaged 54." (From Science & Strategy, April 4, 2007)
Children at 5 and 6 years old are interacting in virtual social networks, learning skills such as money management, responsibility, and appropriate social interactions. They are seamlessly using technology in ways that we never dreamed possible.
As administrators, we may never create clever online social networks like Webkinz and become millionaires. But we can impact children in very significant ways by ensuring that our schools are providing an exciting educational environment with technology rich lessons to match what kids are doing at home. We can become knowledgeable enough to provide the leadership in schools and classrooms to educate this generation of Webkidz. If not, we are going to continue to see high drop-out rates and at even younger ages.
--Marion Ginopolis <Cross posted on the LeaderTalk blog>