Friday, December 17, 2010

My Tiny Planets Website - Product Review


I received access to this product free of charge in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was received.

Photobucket

When my oldest children were little, I remember them watching a show called "Bing and Bong" in which a big, furry, blob-like character would ride through space on a fuzzy, white couch with a little, white, alien-like creature by its side. The content of the show was not memorable (perhaps because the characters didn't talk, so when I was about my business, my brain wasn't innundated with the inanity that seems somewhat prevalent in children's shows, especially in the background of life's tasks -- but I digress!), though I remember the theme song was catchy and cute.
 
Do you recognize these guys?
 So, when I began reviewing the Tiny Planets website, my mind flashed back to those tender-aged times in our old house as I discovered that Bing and Bong, those mute space adventurers on the flying couch, are the stars of the site. My children themselves only have vague memories of the cuddly creatures, but they, too, remember the music. (As an aside -- the background music on the website is the first thing DD8 commented about, saying, "I like the music!")

According to the website, "Tiny Planets provides award-winning educational entertainment set in space exploration and discovery, inspiring creativity and critical thinking in youth ages 4 to 12. Tiny Planets features the cosmic adventures of Bing and Bong, two whimsical aliens who travel the Universe of Tiny Planets together on their gadget-loaded plush sofa. With Bing and Bong, children are encouraged to think for themselves, assume social responsibility, take care of our planet and learn about the mysteries of space." While my experience with the website would lead me to tone down that description a bit, it does provide some noteworthy resources.


As you can tell by the above screen shot, the website has a variety of things to offer. Access to some of it is free; to get to most of the good stuff, you need to purchase "keys." In order to keep such purchases in the hands of parents, a parent account must be set up, and children's accounts added. The cost is as follows: 10 keys $1.95, 25 keys $3.95, 85 keys $9.95, 250 keys $25.95, 600 keys $49.95. Once keys are used to purchase something, those items are yours forever. So, if you use keys to purchase one of the TV episodes, you may watch it as many times as you wish; if you purchase a book, it remains "purchased" and can be read as often as desired.

Children can explore and play independently once a "cadet" account has been established. This can be done by clicking the blue button that turns to green where it says "Create Your Kid Account Here."  In order to protect children's identities online, children may ONLY choose from a list of pre-created cadet names. This should be done before the parent account is created so that parents don't get confused and think that when they are creating their own account and adding their children that they should make up their children's cadet names. (Doing so will result in an infinite number of rejected cadet names, and thus extreme frustration. Ask me how I know.) Instructions on the website are quite clear -- you just have to make sure you read and follow them. They're not in your face, so sometimes it can be confusing. The Parent section should be consulted frequently -- cuz it's all laid out there. Watch for this arrow:



While I was initially unimpressed by the educational value of Tiny Planets, recently acquired access to all of its features has improved my opinion of it quite dramatically. Superficially, it looks like it's geared to gaming for little people. But digging deeper reveals some meaty material. For example,  with the assistance of some other alien adventurers like "Halley" and "Aurora," the "Mad Science" section offers some ideas for cool experiements that can be done in the comfort of your kitchen, like making plasma:


And the "Kid's [sic] Corner" offers some other fascinating challenges sure to tempt any child to learn about the world in which they live. How about making candy from crystals?


Or exploring motion with flying coins?
I like the fact that the additional adventurers have characters that bring dimension and context to the information offered by the website. For example, in a pre-school geography post called, "Let's Make Winter," reporter Halley tells a story of when she was a child longing for quiet winter activities while her siblings were jumping off roofs into snow banks. She created an art activity for herself, along with a way to preserve it from imminent doom with her boisterous siblings. She shares what she did, and explains how readers can do it themselves. This added relational quality makes the website more captivating and engaging than if a simple list of projects and activities was offered. It makes it easier to be drawn into the learning opportunities -- as further evidenced by this informative but light-hearted post, entitled "Oh Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me Right Now -- Smack":


The disconcerting (to me, anyway) thing is that all of these wonderful learning opportunities for older children are hidden in the "What's New" section of the website, where as the "Learn" section houses a limited number of preschool "puzzles" (pdf. files) that are visually appealing, but are little more than glorified fill-in-the-blank pages. However, the "Lesson Plans" section is sufficiently impressive, as evidenced by these screen shots:





Clicking on each of the links in these sections takes you to detailed lesson plans, with learning objectives, activities, and games that are connected to Bing and Bong books and TV shows that are available on the site, as outlined here:

These lesson plans demand extensive parental involvement as the books have no audio component, so children who cannot read fluently will need assistance. But children who are taken by the Bing and Bong characters will love all the activities centred around these critters.

Children of all ages will enjoy the website in general IF they have extensive access to its features. Initially, my gaming son (DS11) was unimpressed. After less than half an hour, he actually asked if he could get off the computer. (Unheard of before!) Much of what he observed was "cheesy" and just your "basic arcade games" (though I did hear him exclaim, "Yay! I can blow things up! Awesome!" Gotta love that boy brain :{ ) DD8 was anxious to play, but found the extensive text (without audio renditions) difficult to navigate and soon lost interest. But once we had full access, it was more enjoyable for everyone, as evidenced by this scene (I had to get up to take the picture, but the three of us were all on Tiny Planets):



Even the kitty wanted to hang out with Bing and Bong (picture taken by DD8):

While we won't be incorporating the website into our daily routine, I do envision us using it beyond the due date of this review. DS4 has had little opportunity to try it yet, and I think he will enjoy the games, as well as the learning activities. I know that DD8 will be asking to return there, as well.

To read more reviews of Tiny Planets, check out what other TOS Crew members have written.

4 comments:

  1. Ooooooh, I remember Bing and Bong too! Cute little creatures.
    Checked with ds14, he remembered them after a second or two and grinned. Thanks for the memories! :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. You're welcome, Paula :) Thanks for reading!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Xinme, I just wanted to thank you for your review. I'm glad that the children enjoyed the various aspects of the website.

    I also want to thank you for your feedback on the blog. (Okay, I'll admit it -- I'm the official scribe for Halley/Bing/Bong's ^_^) It's very helpful to know what parents are looking for in regards to activities and information. We're going to be doing visiting the constellations each month this year, so please stop by (and tell your friends).

    Thanks again!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi. Just wanted to thank you again for reviewing the site. I wanted to let you know that on April 4th the new and improved site was launched. I'd love to hear any thoughts you might have, especially since some of the changes were made because of the Crew's suggestions. You can check us out at www.tinyplanets.com. You can reach me at cheryl@mytinyplanets.com.

    Thanks!
    Cheryl

    ReplyDelete

Sincere responses . . .

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...