I'm quite open in admitting that I don't place too many restrictions on screen time for my children. But I did pull a face when my son asked if he could register on a website that his friend had told him about. I'm less keen on computer games than I am onTV, because it's such a solitary pastime compared with watching telly with your siblings.
Club Penguin is a website for children where you register your online identity in the guise of – you guessed it – a penguin. By playing games, players can amass coins to buy clothing, furniture for their igloos, and biscuits for their pet puffles. What's a puffle? Ask a small boy, he's probably got one in every colour.
- It's social
Players can meet their friends online, and make new buddies from all around the world.
- It's great for improving reading, but in a subtle way
Players can send simple, pre-written messages to each other. Normally these consist of "Wooo, Party!!" so it's not great literature, but every little helps.
- It improves mouse control and keyboard skills
Even though he's left handed, my son can now point and click with his right hand easily. A useful skill.
- It's cheap
The basic level is free to join, with full membership at £3.95 per month – not bad at all for hours of entertainment.
- It's constantly evolving
Every few weeks there is something new to discover on the site, like extra games and themed parties.
- It's safe
The site is owned by the Disney Organisation, and they are meticulous about safety, so it's highly monitored to ensure it's a safe space for children to play online.
- It's a genuine enthusiasm of children
You hear them swapping penguin tips on the way to school and in the playground. Computer geeks are now the cool ones.
- Its success is led by children, not business
You won't find many Club Penguin toys in the shops. Marketing is struggling to catch up with this one, which is the opposite to how these things normally go.