Kids@Play: Elf Island Unlocks the Secret to Parent Approval

I was AWOL at CES as my IBM went MIA. Translated?

You’re SOL (simply outta luck) if you’re seeking a fresh thread on the big Consumer Electronics Show toys and tactics targeting kids at the Kids at Play summit, until I can reconvene with colleagues or TechMamas that were present to interview them and/or pitch a guest editorial.

I tried, I really tried to get there. The clone thing just isn’t working and times are tight.

Last year marketing pro MC Milker was our special correspondent, and I tried to recruit her this year, but she didn’t make it to Vegas either. Kinda makes me wonder about turnout overall. This year our newest friends at Elf Island (the stellar Gaming for Good tween virtual world with a humanitarian bent, creating online to offline mirrored actions) were at CES in force, so I’ll find out if it was boom or bust on the Vegas desert ghost town front.

I hear there were some cool new arrivals, like this teen game to teach healthier behavior/fight AIDS in Kenya…and ‘SafeEyes Mobile evidently just announced a new iphone filter to keep kids safe when surfing. (um, do that many kids REALLY own an iphone? Last I looked our economy was in the commode, sheesh!)

Anyway, I’ve been following Elf Island ever since au courant Izzy Neis happened to mention it long ago in its pre-beta launch, and since then, I’ve had the honor of a full demo prior to Elf Island’s launch, an in-depth interview with both founders, Liz and Craig Kronenberger, and most recently, a crash course in their new Good Quest features to benefit Habitat for Humanity, which recently went live. (yes, it pulls from a former VMK crowd, but no, it’s not owned by Disney) Why all the sudden intensity and microscopic attention on Elf Island? Um…well…

It looks like Shaping Youth may have another solid teaming alliance up our sleeve once we finalize some paperwork this week…

As those newscasters say, “Stay tuned, film at 11.”

SO exciting!

I’m eager to test some positive change/behavioral concepts and it looks like a perfect platform for us! I’m all for media that can unite and inspire kids who want to make a difference in the world…

You’ll have to wait a bit to ‘unlock the secret’ of OUR program with Elf Island…Fingers crossed it all goes according to plan for us here at Shaping Youth on the research front. (man, those academic study hoops to jump through are painstaking and laborious! argh!)

Meanwhile, as to CES, I’ll also check in with our friends at Dizzywood and Zookazoo on the virtual world front to see about the Kids At Play summit, as they both have made such a huge splash prior. Real Simple magazine voted Zookazoo ‘best for kids, fall ’08’ and as I reported earlier, Dizzywood won Best in Show at the Under the Radar conference for June ’08–both are on my own Parents Choice list.)

Plus, I want to hear more about wild gadgets like Mattel’s Mind Flex which frankly creeps me out a bit in terms of mind control and brain based behavior via toy company…

Too close for comfort on the brandwashing and braincells front, I guess…

Plus Mattel is making such a massive digital push that it should have parents covering their wallets and their ears at the pester power coming down the pike. Too soon to tell I s’pose…I’m just an avid “No Child Left INSIDE” proponent, so am a stalwart stickler for burying needless consumption and buy, buy, baby messaging to swap for an eco-literacy attitude toward digital play. (thus the enamored love-fest with sites like Elf Island that contribute to rather than wreak havoc upon the planet, following the ‘Have fun, do good’ and ‘Change begins with me’ approach to life!!!) 🙂

Anyway, for those who want to see the kids’ agenda and blog of Kids At Play (last year called the Sandbox Summit) here’s the who’s who…

Now I just need to sort out the ‘what’s what’ once I hear from colleagues attending with an ear to the ground…

There are also some great YouTube videos posted on the Sandbox Summit feed (long though, 45 min!) with Wendy Smolen and Claire Green co-founders of the summit, highlighting their 21st century goal to “ensure the next generation of ‘players’ become active innovators rather than passive consumers of technology.” They discuss integration vs. overshadowing the benefits of play…I’m onboard that train…

…Albeit pulling the brake levers and jolting industry whiz kids now and then to remind that in 2008 a humble STICK was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame, (great Gizmodo visual at left) joining the yo-yo and a cardboard box among the 41 items honored by the fabulous Strong National Museum of Play!

(Don’t laugh, I actually know of a parent that gave a TEEN anime artist a monster-sized massive moving box to create a ‘living sculpture’ showcase of manga/anime, and it was a huge hit with her reverie into simpler childhood/playhouse days…she created her own very tactile, 3D real world art exhibition)

The plain ol’ stick’s many uses was summed by Christopher Bensch, the museum’s curator of collections:

“It’s very open-ended, all-natural, the perfect price — there aren’t any rules or instructions for its use…It can be a Wild West horse, a medieval knight’s sword, a boat on a stream or a slingshot with a rubber band.”

… “No snowman is complete without a couple of stick arms, and every campfire needs a stick for toasting marshmallows. “This toy is so fantastic that it’s not just for humans anymore. You can find otters, chimps and dogs — especially dogs — playing with it.”

Yah. Now we just need to market it better, eh?

I suppose that’s MY job to add some creative spin…

After all, you can launch as much Planet Soccer virtual fun as you want, digital electronics are not going to help kids’ obesity issues and physical health to get their keisters outdoors for ACTIVE PLAY! Well…unless…ok, like I said, stay tuned…hint, hint.

(Great write up on Planet Soccer via Izzy Neis here)

For you icicle in the nosehairs-windchill factor-snowbound families…I DO realize indoor fun, exergaming and balance is key with inclimate winter weather, and sledding only goes so far…It’s NOT an ‘either/or’ concept, and there ARE MANY “virtues of virtual” worlds (or I wouldn’t be exploring same!)

I’m simply reminding that “Kids At Play” first and foremost usually means to me a non-electronic, non-media/marketing experience…So just because CES coined the term “Kids@Play Summit” it doesn’t negate The Case for Make Believe as I wrote in my series on the value and need for unstructured play.

I won’t get on my soapbox on that one, you all know how I feel in terms of prioritization, balance and media management…so I’ll hush.

In fact, we have an upcoming guest piece by a somewhat skeptical gamer, Francophile Pamela Poole, who removed judgment this holiday season and surprised herself in a decidedly positive (and very French) perspective called ‘Wii are Family.’

Personally…I still would rather hike the redwoods or go to the coast…mai oui? N’est ce pas? By the way, those Wii Miis above of Pamela’s family do not say ‘quitter’ in rude, chiding, unsportsmanlike American-style, it is en Francais, s’il vous plaà®t…for the button that says ‘quit.’ 😉 Got it? Watch for her article here soon…

Now for the BONUS 2009 freebie question, readers…Drum roll, please:

What electronic gizmo fell flat &/or received squeals of glee in your gift-giving this year?

Curious. A Packaging Girlhood hardbound edition to the first person who comments with their tale!!! 🙂 Ready? Set? —Go!

Kids At Play Summit, Jan. 9th, One Day Focus Inside of CES: Jan. 8 —11:

“…Some of the brightest minds in product design, journalism and academia include:

* Gary Knell, President and CEO of Sesame Workshop,
* Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project,
* Michelle Slatalla, Author and columnist for the New York Times,
* Rod Humble, EVP and Head of the Sims Lab, Electronic Arts,
* Chuck Scothon, General Manager and SVP, Mattel
* Warren Buckleitner, Childrens Technology Review
* Susan Tave Zelman, SVP, Corporation for Public Broadcasting
* Cheryl Garnette, Department of Education

“What are some of the trends that are central to the kids’ technology arena this year?

* “Today’s play hones tomorrow’s workforce. Building 21st century skills relies on creating robust technology tools for kids.
* Technology will be the catalyst to change the education system.
* Kids spend more time at the computer screen than the television screen. Even pre-schoolers are comfortable wielding a cell phone or a mouse.
* Virtual Worlds meld with the Real World. This year more than 120 new virtual worlds will be released, attracting kids as young as pre-schoolers.
* Companies are creating new, more proactive, less intrusive tools to cope with internet dangers.
* Kids are kicking obesity in the butt by getting off the couch with new computerized games that demand physical activity.
* Tiny Beethoven’s and Rembrandts create…not just consume…with video cameras, music players and editing tools once reserved for professionals.”

(Editorial comment…do we believe ALL of this? Not I, bow tie…Some yes, some no. Ping me with analysis links that aren’t puppeteers please…’k? I’m collecting them…)


HopeLab helps adolescents with cancer battle their disease with its Re-Mission video game. Created by the non-profit organization with input from young patients, Re-Mission has demonstrated to researchers that it can improve health outcomes, a part of the campaign developed by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), educates kids and their parents on how to avoid the potential hearing damage from digital music.


Intel Corporation will be making a major announcement about a new computer platform for education.

Knowledge Adventure is debuting JumpStart 3D, a virtual learning environment designed for kids 3-8. The site combines entertainment and education as kids’ master skills in math and reading,

My SAT Coach with The Princeton Review is the first video game to help students prepare for the SAT, the college entrance exam. Challenge your math, reading and gaming skills on the Nintendo DS. At their booth #72505, you can hear the test prep company’s songs that teach kids vocabulary words, and were composed for their podcasts. provides instant, on demand access to the largest network of screened, certified tutors 24/7 for a one-to-one real tutoring session with immediate results.

Play and Creativity

Digital Blue puts creativity in the hands of kids with kid-size tools to create movies, record music and play media. From Disney brands to Batman, Digital Blue incorporates kids’ favorite characters with their favorite tools. .

Electronic Arts: The first company to make simulation games a mainstream pastime, Electronic Arts is showing some of their newest family games, sports games and of course, The Sims.

Jasman Toys creates a daring world for boys, from remote controlled helicopters to electronic dinosaurs and Halo Lazer Tag.

Jazwares gives kids hours of fun with products like Star Theater Projector where children interact with life-size celebs projected on your ceiling.

kidthing is the first and only free digital media player made for kids. It offers kids 3 — 10 innovative games, plays, books, videos, activities and personal media like photos.

Mattel, Inc., redefines play in the digital age with worlds for Barbie and more.

PBS Kids Play is a subscription service based on PBS favorite children’s’ television characters. It offers a personalized, directed online learning program for pre-schoolers with plenty of feedback and input for their parents and caregivers.

RIDEMAKERZ is the car designers’ equivalent of Build A Bear. You can design a tricked out car or play some racing games in the virtual world while having your car dreams come to life in RIDEMAKERZ retail environment.

Virtual Worlds

Elf Island teaches social responsibility through a charming elf-inhabited virtual world that makes it fun and rewarding to help others. A commitment to “Gaming for Good”, showing kids that they have the power to change the world, and “Mirrored Gaming,” the games that translate to real life situations are the products’ lynchpins., in partnership with Animal Planet’s Faithful Friends, is about to launch a virtual world where kids and interact with both the TV and online components.

My Yearbook is the fastest growing social network where older kids share their profile information in a safe, fun fashion.

Senario creators of Huri Humi, a digital pal for kids unveils its newest trick. My Secret Circle is the quintessential social network for teen and tween girls. But you’ll need the key!

Webcarzz intersects social networking, virtual worlds and online games and is the only casual multiplayer online game and community designed specifically for boys 6 to 12. The virtual world includes many virtual variations on classic games and the centerpiece is a car-building tool.

Internet Safety

Child Safety Research and Innovation Center is a “serious” game where young kids get smart about stranger danger, even as they play a fanciful game in a magical kingdom.

CyberPatrol offers tools to block kids from inappropriate sites, monitors their web wandering and prevents online bullying. Install a software parental control package on the family PC, monitor your child’s web history, and use chatguard to stop internet bullying by blocking offensive words both entering and exiting.

ESRB Privacy Online Program helps member websites navigate the intricate federal and international laws that protect children’s privacy on the internet. ESRB is the non-profit, self-regulatory body for the entertainment software industry.

Firefly Mobile: One of the first cell phones for younger children, Firefly Mobile manufactures award-winning mobile phones for mobile kids — and others who require a streamlined phone with enhanced safety features

iHearSafe: Founded by mother of four, Christine Ingemi, in 2006, iHearSafe ® uses award winning, patent-pending Safe Volume™ technology to automatically limit the volume on audio devices to a safe level for kids and adults is a headset for children with a safe volume limit.

Internet brings Safeyes, an award-winning parental control software. This latest version can protect kids within a site, without blocking the entire site. For example, it will block certain, but not all, You Tube clips.

KidZui is a browser adventure for young Internet surfers. You create your own avatar, gain points while surfing the web, and stay confined to the best place for kids on the web, all at the same time. is introducing new parental controls for a new generation of Internet user.

Symantec is launching a brand new tool to help parents and kids protect themselves from the darker side of the Internet.

What They Like, Inc. gives parents information, without an agenda. What They Like’s first product, What They Play (, offers information about the latest video games and game machines in an unbiased environment, a great way for parents to find out what a video game is about before purchasing.”

Here’s a 1:47 CES Clip on the Mattel Mind Flex Game…


Is this supposed to teach kids to fully focus after media and marketing has embedded partial attention deficit and multi-tasking proclivity so pervasively?

Ah, how those marketing ideas come full cycle…er…circle…er…Clearly I need to contact Robyn McMasters at Brain-Based Business on all this ‘theta-wave’ headset stuff…it gives me the heebie-jeebies in Franken-kid mode…She should help sort it out for me…



  1. You mention that Mindflex “creeps you out”. I totally understand this…it is like a little creepy science gift. However, my kids did enjoy it and now we use it when guests visit…they love to try it out!
    .-= Chris´s last blog ..Mindflex: A Great Novelty Christmas Toy =-.

  2. Not only my kids enjoying to play with Mattel Mindflex Game. I can also spend hours to play this game.
    .-= Maximillian´s last blog ..Got Brain Power? Increase Yours with the Mattel Mindflex Game =-.

  3. Wow! It’s cool! This is what I live for.. the X! 😀 hehehehe!

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