Virtual worlds are helpful when it comes to teaching children life skills, reports a survey.

The survey, carried out by Professor David Gauntlett and Lizzie Jackson of the University of Westminster, studied the way six-to-12-year-olds used Adventure Rock - a virtual themed island that was built for the BBC's CBBC channel by Belgian game maker Larian.

The children were asked to explore the world alone but message boards allowed them to share their experiences with other users. They also provided feedback to the university on the good and bad aspects of the virtual world.

According to Gauntlett, the research revealed online worlds were very useful rehearsal spaces, where children could try all kinds of things largely free of the consequences that would follow if they tried them in the real world.

"Virtual worlds can be a powerful, engaging and interactive alternative to more passive media," Gauntlett told BBC News.

Irene Sutherland, a teacher at Merrylee Primary, from which some of the subjects were chosen, said: "Children were adamant about the bits they did not play but were full of ideas about how to improve them."

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