Give children a means to tell you what they think and they will -- often with well-articulated insight.
At MinyanLand, which is a virtual world teaching kids about earning, spending, saving and giving, we use a light bulb as the way for kids to share their feedback and ideas. Because of the laws regulating how you communicate with kids below the age of 13, this is a one-way flow of information.
But it's a rich stream of ideas, and it helps us determine when we've hit the mark and where we've missed. When enough kids ask the same question or make the same observation, it's safe to infer you've got an issue.
Other times, polar opposites suggest you need to let kids customize their experiences.
"You should give people only ONE chance to get it right. It would be more challenging," wrote one player about our world currency matching game. Another player, meanwhile, commented on the same experience by begging for more time to finish: "The people should slow it down because the game is really hard. Thanks."
Anyone who's ever been on the receiving end of this kind of unfiltered feedback knows what I mean. You get to recognize the usernames of the regulars who take a proprietary interest in the site and write back repeatedly if you have not implemented their recommendations.
One of these contributors was so earnest and specific in his (or her) suggestions that I swore it was someone on our staff who didn't want to approach me in person. Another child recommended where we should go to obtain investment capital to expand the site offerings and demonstrated a fairly sophisticated understanding of the business models for virtual worlds.
Then there are the potty-mouths who offer multiple variations on what you should do with body parts. For some reason, the UK players express a higher rate of interest in where they can find boyfriends or girlfriends. (We can deduce the origin of these messages from the time they come in and sometimes the dialect.)
When unabashed joy comes through, it can be just what you need to get through a rough day.
"I just luv luv luv this place!!!!!!!"
This month the light bulb is doing double-duty as a submission channel for our November Gratitude Journal. We're soliciting what kids are grateful for and if their story is published in our virtual world's newspaper, they earn an extra $5,000 in MinyanMoney, the currency of our world.
In keeping with the season and the tenor of these times, I'd like to share some of these heartfelt verbatims:
"I am grateful for pets ... I think that it is cool that you can be responsible for a life even at my age."
"I am grateful for all my stuff, my parents, the house, food, and for you making MinyanLand!"
"I'm grateful that we have the earth to live on and that we have fresh air and water and I'm grateful for the people who care about these things because without them we wouldn't be here."
"I am thankful for music. Music enters your soul and cheers you up. Even sad music encourages you to love people before they leave your life forever, helps you remember that you're beautiful, and gets you through break-ups and make-ups. Music is amazing."
"I'm grateful for my family because they take care of me. They feed me and love me. They help me through hard times and always make me smile. We may fight and have our differences, but in the end we all come together.
"I am thankful for my family and for my friends cause without them I wouldn't be the mature responsible young lady I am today. Also I'm thankful god let me live after almost drowning this past summer. I'm thankful that everyone in my life is being better about stuff and not taking life for granite [sic] cause anything can happen in this crazy world of ours. That's why I'm thankful."