Real Children Learn
n Virtual Words


"Real Children Learn in Virtual Worlds":
This work participates in the special section for Schools
and it is available online at the following italian Website:
[98/99] - [99/00] - [00/01] - [01/02] - [02/03] - [03/04] - [04/05]
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[La Scatola delle Esperienze]


The work is original in its kind because it involves children interacting in tri-dimensional chat-lines with adults, who are willing to "virtually" realize – with 3D constructions – the children’s desires.

The following is a research work, since adults are engaged in verifying the impact of new communication technologies in children, taking note of behavior, hypotheses, graphic realizations, as well as of the memory itself of such experience. A mixed community is thereby created, involving: teachers, parents, children, and people not directly related to the school world. Communication occurs via chat, e-mail and telephone, giving rise to a strong social interaction.

This new solution of virtual community for the (3-5 years old) child has a strong social-educational and pedagogic impact. We believe that this virtual community is well suited for reflections on experience and on the analysis of the behavior resulting from it.

New solutions for virtual (and real) communities - Internet for the child "What is real, what is virtual and what do we men as image of something which is real?" Philosophers and scientists have long debated it, and we do not pretend to answer this question: we would only like, with the opportunity we have, to tell you how school-children aged three, four and five are working on these questions, and how they are interacting with a tri-dimensional chat: Active Worlds.

 The long-distance instrument to communicate and cooperate,
and how the idea was born:

It is possible to communicate and cooperate long-distance (through the Internet) with a software which enables to talk with more users simultaneously, and to build tri-dimensional objects (e.g., a house) all users interact with.

The software used in this form of computer-mediated communication is called "chat". There are different kind of chats, some of them simply consist in text display using the keyboard, while some other chats, such as the one we are talking about in this document, are enriched with a tri-dimensional graphic interface.

The chat we utilized during the period of some months is named Active Worlds. Since this communication form is multimedia, it is necessary to download the software from the related Internet Website. The procedure starts with the Internet site search through a tool called browser. When the desired Website is found and accessed, it is possible to download the program which is supplied in multi-language versions (including Italian).

Active Worlds can be defined a system of tri-dimensional virtual worlds (Italian, Spanish, Russian, English, and American worlds) where some people have the responsibility that all the activities are carried out correctly; these supervisors are called Public Speakers, and are recognized by bold writing. Worlds can be traveled by users in the form of "AVATARS".


Avatar Giro

in the winter active world

on a virtual jet

Avatars are characters divided in categories, such as: men, women, animals, objects, and each user can choose the one he/she prefers. These characters have a nickname that can be chosen at the program start, and have the peculiarity of being animated. Avatars can walk, run, fly, dance, fall, etc. Due to this fact, we can say that the worlds of the chat mentioned above are "active".

The users of active worlds can be citizen or tourists. Tourists can only access a part of the options of the chat system and do not have all the privileges: they cannot send telegrams, create a contact list of friends and join them wherever they are, modify the avatar and create buildings....

All these privileges can be obtained paying a yearly subscription fee, in this way becoming citizens. Our experience has been carried out in this context.

Following is a list of possible actions:

  • It is possible to access a world if is market with a green sign;
  • It is possible to talk to each other and to build objects together (e.g., a house)
  • It is possible to visit places together
  • It is possible to look using different points of view. Choosing button "eye" it is possible to display the objects within a short, medium or long range distance;
  • It is possible to explore through the worlds alone, or with the guide of other tourists/citizens;
  • It is possible to choose an empty world marked with temporary 0 visitors or with more visitors (marked with a number of 1 or more);
  • It is possible to listen to music, and -for citizens- to add the desired music
  • It is possible to show pictures and videos....

Active world thus gives us a visual space context where long-distance conversations are carried out, and it represents the access interface to educational resources, in addition to educational content. The three classes of Latina's school involved have their own "active worlds" called "AW", "ITALIA" and "WINTER". In these worlds, virtual spaces for children have been reserved, where they can meet with other people and play in real time.


In our project we have two different kinds
of communication-cooperation:

1. Mature Communication - Cooperation

During summer 1998 I started to interact in Active Worlds, and I have met Alberto De Gerolamo (Reggio Calabria, Italy), Renee Saari (Michigamme, Michigan USA) and Alessandra Visser (Ferrara, Italy). After a discussion with the school colleague Patrizia Carlaccini (nickname "Onda") I proposed our chat friends a project for the realization of virtual spaces inside "active worlds".

Purpose of the project was to verify children behavior in the virtual worlds, and to determine if navigation inside these worlds could give an "added value" for children learning of space, logic and communicative skills. Back to school, we involved colleagues from other classes in this project. Our long-distance friends realized, in the active world "WINTER", the house of the teacher, the airport, the school café, the airplanes, the ice joust, the children exhibition and so on...; in the active world "ITALIA" there are the children joust and their work exhibit (on line drawings), in active world "AW" there is my house, built over a swimming-pool.


2. Communication - cooperation mature- child

We have formed small groups of children, and we have organized an "on line treasure hunt" in the "AW" swimming pool. Using a mouse and the arrows keys, children have followed our friend's avatars around; and then we saw again, in off-line mode, a related CD that I have realized for the discussion session. After this session, children have filled a questionnaire (which was common to all classes), giving their impressions and thoughts on the avatars' meeting, and how their school should be built. Later on, the children's drawing have been sent via e-mail to all long-distance friends met in the project: once the drawings have been published on the Web, our long-distance friends have organized exhibits of the children's drawings. Starting with the comparison of the real school, where we spend the all day, and the virtual school created by our long-distance friends, we have had discussions and opinions exchanges..



The project has been analyzed
from active worlds educative center,
which gave us the opportunity
to create a complete world
for education and tests.


During this summer,
our friends started to build
nice places for children
in the world "GIRO",
and other virtual spaces
will be destined for the meeting
of children's parents and teachers.

Giro's World

Preliminary conclusions

I believe that that this experience has been very important for such small children. It lays the foundation for a constructive opening to the outside world, through the Internet, and it enables adults to verify the degree of comprehension reached, with respect to the differences between reality, fantasy and virtuality.

Primary goal of this experience is the serach of a "reading method" aware of the elements of reality in which children are set into, who are often influenced by messages constituted of complex codes (immages, animations, tridimensional models, sounds) of difficult interpretation and orientation. In the current school year, we will continue with observations, data saving and online games.

In this latter period, I am verifying if the method of observation and reading of virtual elements is assimilated and re-elaborated with success during a significant time span. Technology and production methods

Teacher Linda Giannini

Bio data:

Linda Giannini teaches in a kindergarten school (Latina, Italy). Scholar of several subjects about Education, and advisor for the application of multi media to education, she collaborates with the CREATIVE-CyberGroup/LRE EgoCreaNet, and with the University of Firenze [LTE], Italy. She is also moderator of some mailing-list such as Tirocinio and dw-infanzia. Graduated in Philosophy at the University of Ferrara, Italy [degree course in Technology of audiovisual and multi-media communication]. ICT Consultant of seminars; training courses; educational tv programs (Mediamente, Multimedi@scuola puntate [5]-[7]-[8], Mosaico [Using educational CD-ROM in the nursery classes], [Computer in the nursery school]; RAI Taccuino Italiano [april 2010]; InnovatiON [may 2010] and of forums ["Bambini ed internet" - Fila 4 family - World Wide School: nuovi modi di fare scuola]. She served as critical friend in LiReMar (Lingua 2 Rete Marche) project; as path and progress facilitator of the Teacher in Hospitals training course, in the frame of the HSH@Netword (in collaboration with MIUR/DGSI-CNR/ITD – Ministry of Public Education, University and Research – Council of National Research). She is school trainer and coordinator of the M.P.I. project [Italian Ministry of Public Education] IBM Kidsmart of the educational room [from 2004 to 2007]; coordinator of "IL VALORE DELLA DIVERSITA'" [Valuing the Diversity] - DiversaMente "La diversità come risorsa" for the Department of Multiple Intelligences and for eTutor on line Giunti. She has belonged to the Technical Committee of Pirelli International Award 2004; to the on-line Jury for Pirelli Award 2007. She has collaborated with C.I.R.D. University of Trieste. She is consultant and editor of educational materials for Laboratori PuntoEdu - Neoassunti- ForTIC - ForTIC 2 – FOR (ANSAS, former INDIRE, educational on-line environments), and moderator of the related forum. She has published several papers and essays for the Edizioni Didattiche Gulliver. Tutor of the M.P.I. Project Multilab (1996), and of the Piano Nazionale di Formazione (National Program for Education, CM.55/2002); supervisor for the traineeship at the Educational Science Degree Course, Elementary Education, at the University Roma Tre, Rome, Italy. Member of the Editorial Board of e-didablog and of e-didateca “Catalogo Nazionale dei prodotti video e multimediali delle scuole”, [National Catalogue of Video and Multi-media Products for Education], by the M.P.I. Partner in the European projects Xplora e Xperimania (about scientific education); national co-coordinator of the Environment for Young Europeans website of the European Schoolnet [rif. WHITE PAPER Women and ICT Why are girls still not attracted to ICT studies and careers?]. Since 1997, she is researching the impact on education by web communities, chats, 3D world. Involved in European projects (1999 on) and in Educational Robotics (2003 on). She is currently supervisor for the traineeship at SSIS tutor, University of Latium, Italy. She received the 2009 Special Awards “School” by Museo della Scienza e della Tecnologia (Milan, Italy) Tecnovisionarie®” 2009, and she is 2009/2010 – 2010/11 eTwinning Ambassador.

Home page:
and other information


"Real Children Learn in Virtual Worlds":
This work participates in the special section for Schools
and it is available online at the following italian Website:
[98/99] - [99/00] - [00/01] - [01/02] - [02/03] - [03/04] - [04/05]
[05/06] - [06/07] - [07/08] - [08/09] - [09/10] - [10/11] - [11/12]
[12/13] - [13/14] - [14/15] - [15/16] - [16/17] - [17/18] - [18/19]
[La Scatola delle Esperienze]

Technology tools and Software:

· Pentium 200 Computer
· ISDN card
· Netscape browser
· Eudora electronic mail system
· Scanner HP
· Laser and inkjet printers
· Digital camera
· TV
· Video projector
· Video tapes
· Educational CD
· Encyclopaedia (Multimedia and printed)
· Tape recorder
· Audio cassettes
· Word 97
for Web-page creation and production of letters to be sent as e-mail attachments

Graphics Techniques:

· Water color
· Alcohol color
· Pencil color
· Wax color
· Paint
· Paint Shop Pro 5

Educational Methodologies:

· Research
· Exploration
· Comparison
· Hypotheses-formulation

© Linda Giannini 1996-2020
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