What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this virtual world with chat and games charges up to $5.95 per month for access to premium content. Kids can play a more limited version for free. There's a store that sells plush toys (plus other merchandise), which can be used to activate a short-term premium membership. The site does a good job with safety issues -- there are thorough guidelines for kids and parents, and parents must activate kids' accounts before they can log in. They're also given the option of restricting their kids' Toots time, which can help considering that this site can be addicting. Chat is filtered, and moderators hang out wherever the kids can go. Kids can send messages to their buddies on the site. Younger kids, especially sensitive ones, can feel rejected if their requests to chat or become friends are ignored.
What's it about?
The latest in a trend of toy-based sites, TOOTSVILLE.COM is a virtual world where kids can wander around in the body of a Toot -- an elephant-like creature that's sold as a plush toy. Kids who want to go on the site for free can play a variety of games, chat with other Toots, and travel to different worlds (including the moon, a comic world, a dinosaur land, and more). A premium membership, which costs $5.95 a month (or less, if you sign up for six months or a year), gives kids access to extra features, such as the chance to buy clothes and furniture with the \"peanuts\" they collect, play special games, and attend events.
Is it any good?
Tootsville's free content should satisfy most kids who are looking for simple problem-solving and arcade games. The "Tootlympics" games score big, with virtual gymnastics, volleyball, archery, and more. The cute, colorful world is pretty easy to navigate, although sometimes it's a bit tough to control the Toots' actions. One handy feature is the "find games" button, which highlights each area in the world that features a game or activity. Parents will appreciate the site's thoughtful approach to safety, but may be annoyed by the merch tie-ins and pushes to upgrade membership. (The site's grammatically incorrect copy may also irk eagle-eyed moms and dads.)
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about online safety and what's appropriate to share on a Web site and setting computer time limits. You can also discuss how to apply the social skills you learned in the virtual world to life offline: How would you approach a new friend? What would you do if someone was bothering you? Families can talk to older kids about how sites market their own merchandise.