Wacky for Webkinz

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By Neila Schuhmann

Their soft, furry bodies come in colorful colors and are small enough for tiny hands to tote around everywhere. They offer comfort and security to their little owners as well as teach them computer skills and how to care for others.

Collecting Webkinz is the latest craze for children, much like the baseball cards, Hotwheels and Beanie Babies of the past.

For Easter, Chloe Eastridge said she didn't want candy - just Webkinz.

The 7-year-old has collected 103 of the pets.

"For Christmas, birthdays ... That's all she asks for," says her mother, Jessica Eastridge.

Her computer skills aren't bad either, according to her mom.

"Chloe's pretty computer savvy," her mom says. "But most children are these days."

Each Webkinz comes with a computer code, which children use to "adopt" that particular pet once they log on to the Webkinz Internet site. Once adopted, the pet must be cared for. Children can dress, feed, bathe and even decorate rooms in a virtual house for the pets. Sometimes, Webkinz may even get sick and have to visit Dr. Quack's Clinic.

Children can play a multitude of games - some educational, others just for fun - and earn KinzCash in order to pay for their Webkinz' needs.

Chloe says that Tile Towers is her favorite game. But even more than playing the games, she says she loves the animals themselves, while scooping them up in a big hug.

When it comes time for Chloe to visit a friend's house for a sleepover, she must choose which one to take from among her collection.

"I just take the one that helps me sleep and that's the softest," she said.

When Chloe broke her arm last fall and had to have surgery, one of her Webkinz was there to comfort her through the whole procedure. The doctor agreed to let "Beethoven," her stuffed St. Bernard, stay by her side while she was under anesthesia. There was even a photo and official hospital stickers to prove he had been there.

Now a second-grader at Taylor County Elementary, Chloe said that her first-grade teacher, Farrah McLean, would sometimes let the class play with Webkinz during free time.

With last year's class having an overwhelming majority of girls, McLean said it was an unusual year. She allowed the students to play with the pets or on the Webkinz site during free time and snack time.

McLean said she believes that Webkinz are a great motivational tool for children when it comes to learning computer skills.

"It teaches them or at least introduces them to computer skills," McLean said. "Plus, they're really cute."

Along with her new computer knowledge, Chloe has also had to deal first-hand with "hackers."

"Somebody hacked onto my account and they put six beds in one room and [the Webkinz] didn't have any room to walk," Chloe said, while typing away at the keyboard. "They spent all my money except for $3.

"And I had seven numbers of money. I was mad."

But it's not long before the memory of the hacker's misdeeds clears her mind and Chloe's excited again - this time, over one of her six interactive backyards.

"Oh sweet!" she squeals. "All of my garden stuff is ready to be harvested."

"Ducky the Lucky" is Chloe's favorite Webkinz.

But just how does a 7-year-old come up with 103 names?

Max Cooper, Chloe's basset hound Webkinz, is named after her big sister Lauren's boyfriend's two dogs - Max and Cooper.

"I couldn't decide which name, so I just named him both."

She named a bulldog "Chloe," after herself. "Megan" is a penguin, named after a friend. Then there's Claire the pink and white cat, Thunder the grey Arabian horse, Lil' Mumu the monkey, Midnight Marvin the black stallion and Skittles, a frog named after a bird Chloe used to have. And the list goes on.

Each time a new pet is "adopted" on the Web site, children must listen to Mrs. Birdy's welcome speech.

"I have to hear this every time I get a new pet," Chloe says.

The games and activities are also accompanied by catchy tunes. Chloe says her dad, Jay Eastridge, loves the tune on one particular game, Ant Mania.

"He says, 'Play that Ant Mania tune,'" Chloe says, humming along to the song before switching over to another game.

"Ah! Lily Padz! It's addicting," she chimes. "I just want to get to that tree house. And you only get four tries. That's lame."

- Social Writer Neila Schuhmann can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 224 or by e-mail at cknj@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.