You know you're old when there are television shows you've never heard of. And you know your kids are getting old when the same is true of children's television shows ;-).
Apparently, there is a television show called Tiny Planets, and it is co-created by the Sesame Workshop and endorsed by Montessori Centre International. It features Bing and Bong and emphasizes science education and early learning goals. It's popular in over 100 TV markets, and now Bing and Bong have taken their crusade to the World Wide Web.
The Tiny Planets online site is geared toward ages 4-12 and has many components. First, there is an entire virtual universe where your child can have their very own tiny planet to care for, as well as pilot a space ship around in space visiting other areas of the site and upgrading their space craft and planet with credits they earn or KEYs they buy. Then, there is an area where your child can watch Tiny Planet episodes (one for free, the rest bought with KEYs). There is a place to read books about Bing and Bong. And then, of course, there are games. And there are parent pages where you can print worksheets for younger children and full lesson plans for using Tiny Planets to teach your child about science and social studies.
The pros: Tiny Planets is free. What's not to love about that? And, more than most other children's online sites, it strives to be educational, teaching kids first and foremost about how to be good stewards of planet Earth. The site is also very child safety conscious-with no ads and no direct communication allowed between players besides emoticons and pre-programmed speech bubbles. And it's fun. Even without having ever watched the Tiny Planets TV show, my children have all enjoyed playing.
The cons: Some of the more exciting things require buying KEYs, like the ability to watch more than the one episode of Tiny Planets. And the site is not intuitively easy to navigate. Not every screen offers the same buttons for navigating to other areas of the site, so once your child clicks on "My Tiny Planet", it is not easy to get back to any of the other areas of the site. And while some activities require you to login (with a free account), others do not, and having to go from one to another (login to non-login) is not easy, and does not seem to make much sense, especially for children. Even getting your kids an account is not easy. And other areas are not easy to navigate either. From the initial page, if you follow the "create a cadet account" buttons, you end up on a page that requires a login without giving you the chance to ever create one. I think things could be better defined too. When you are flying your space ship, there are options on the sides of your screen that you can click on, but nothing ever tells you WHAT they are or WHY you would want to do them. And finally, despite the site having educational intents, my kids have not been able to tell me a single thing they have learned from it, so while it IS educational in its goals, it is possible that your kids will overlook that entirely and just see it as another game to play.
The bottom line: Tiny Planets is free. FREE. So why not check it out? The lesson plans look interesting, but I only just stumbled on them (they weren't easy to find, so follow the link), so I haven't gotten to really check them out yet, but I plan to. And they are free too.
Legal Disclaimer: As a member of the TOS Crew, I was asked to take a look at Tiny Planets. Since the site is free to everyone, I, in essence, received no compensation for this review, although we were given access to items normally requiring KEYs.