[Sonja Plummer-Morgan and Lisa Neal-Shaw are public librarians from Maine who have explored the use of virtual worlds with very young—and not-so-very young—children. They have found sites very helpful in encouraging curiosity and enabling tech-learning behaviors such as online communication, collaboration, composition, traditional as well as 21st-century literacies, and more, to the extent that we wanted to share their insights with our readers in K–12 education settings. —Ed.]
Long ago and far away, children played with paper dolls. They cut them out, played alone or in small groups, talked about them, and maybe even tried creating their own outfits for them.
Long ago and far away, children played with stuffed animals. They dressed them up, made beds for them, arranged play dates with the animals of other friends, and nurtured and cared for them.
Whatever happened to those interactive, creative games? Well, they came into the 21st century, and they are in children’s homes and at the library. Welcome to The Doll Palace, "Where Cartoon Dolls Live." The Doll Palace is a mashup of creativity and interactivity, located online at www.thedollpalace.com. It’s a social networking site designed especially for young people—children, tweens, and teens—to create various types of dolls. But with an enormous database of features to pull from, kids are no longer restricted by the availability of paper and scissors. Dolls can be made and shared with friends from all over the world. But even more than that, stories about the dolls—whether they be original or "fan fiction" creations based upon popular works—can be written by the children, and those too can be shared and commented upon by that same worldwide network of friends. Remember playing wedding with your paper dolls with a friend from down the street? How about making up a wedding story based on Miley Cyrus or your own creation and sharing it with yours friends from the U.S., Ireland, and Pakistan?
Takin’ It to the Library
In 2007, the Mark & Emily Turner Memorial Library in Presque Isle, Maine, set up an account on The Doll Palace because we wanted to be where our tween and younger kids were (a sensibility that applies to elementary and middle school educational settings as well). At the last check, there were more than 3,312,278 users accounts on The Doll Palace. A basic membership is free, although there are premium accounts that can be purchased for about $2 per month. More than 43 million dolls have been made and shared so far.
And what is this doing for our young library visitors? It is teaching them computer literacy, from the basics of manipulating a mouse to an introduction to rudimentary HTML coding. It is teaching them to be writers and critical readers, and it grants them access to a variety of cultures.
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