Earlier this year I was singing the praises of the Club Penguin virtual world. It seemed to have worked wonders on my son, improving his reading, concentration and computer skills. But though my daughter enjoyed it too, she didn't get fully immersed in it the way boys seem to.
My daughter has been a member of the gardening club at her school, but that's stopped for the winter, so we were delighted to be invited to try out a popular virtual world for kids - Garden Party World.
At first we had a few teething troubles with registering on the site, and had to try a couple of different email addresses before it would let us in. But once we were in, we were hooked from the start.
Here's what Garden Party World has to offer:
Children create their own mini-figure to navigate the world. They use this character to play games and puzzles, chat to other users and build their own treehouse home. Players can buy magical seeds for their virtual garden by earning points (or "orbs" in GPW-speak) by playing games. Once they've bought a seed, players can plant it in their own little garden, water it and watch it grow. The seeds then flower into anything from a pet to a piece of furniture to a fancy dress costume.
The game controls are simple, so it's easy for children to get to grips with straight away. If you get stuck, click on the wise owl who'll point you in the right direction. Like Club Penguin, there are options for free play, and extended areas for paying members. The game had my daughter hooked straight away, as she saved up for a pet by playing online conkers.
Garden Party World is available to join in online, or a special-offer boxed version has just been released. It's available exclusively here at GAME, priced £4.99. The box contains a disc with two months' full membership access to the website, and includes ten bonus character clothing and accessory items, so players can get a head start growing their own fun. It would make a lovely stocking filler for a junior Alan Titchmarsh.