You might not give your kids espresso, but you can let them hang out all night at the Imagination Café. This Internet hotspot for kids lets them play, learn and share stories in their own creative and safe Web space.
The site was launched September by Rosanne Tolin, an Indiana mother of four.“I just felt that my work as a kid’s editor, particularly in Web sites, was unfinished,” Tolin says. Tolin worked for guidepostsforkids.com until the inspirational publication discontinued their youth products, but Tolin continued using her Web skills to build www.imagination-cafe.com. In its first month, the site attracted about 150 new visitors a day.
The site, guided by 10-year-old Cookie and her dog Krumbs, includes a variety of activities for kids: games, trivia, recipes, articles, surveys, songs and quizzes.“Quizzes are like catnip for kids,” Tolin says.
But the best feature of the site, according to Tolin, is the Career-o-Rama section, which allows kids to explore different career interests and find resources like the CIA Kids Page and NASA Kids. The feature also includes a“Before They were Famous” portion of celebrities at odd jobs.“I didn’t want things like fashion or beauty or celebrity, stuff that was in your face,” Tolin says.“I tried to work in celebrities with Career-o-Rama and celebrity embarrassing stories without making this Hollywood thing so important.”
The Web site also gives plenty of opportunity for interaction. Kids can post recipes, reviews, embarrassing stories, and pictures of their pets. An“Open Mic” page lets them write about daily life topics from friends to their future. But the site remains safe with members-only areas and strict security.“I know the dangers of [the Internet],” Tolin says.“Anything posted on the discussion boards, anything posted in general, is reviewed first.”
Writing is also encouraged in the weekly and seasonal writing competitions.“I can’t help myself,” Tolin says.“I just love the education component.” Tolin also includes school tips and links to study help sites. She plans to compile the winning entries of the writing competitions into a book, as a means to encourage the writers and to fundraise for the site.
A recipe or a joke book may also be added to the Imagination Café store, which already sells school supplies, shirts and mugs.
Tolin will continue building and adding to the site. She plans to add a blog next– a suggestion from one of the kids– that will tell the adventures of Cookie and Krumbs. The kids can join in on their stories, and also tell their own.
“I really tried to make it feel like it’s a community,” Tolin says.“That’s the point for the café.”