One way that might work for your kids is to create a picture of a character by using an avatar builder. Here are some web spaces where kids can design a character by choosing features, clothes and expressions. If your children are not too keen on writing their own stories, they might enjoy building an avatar, and perhaps labelling features, or writing just a short description of their creation, what it looks like, what it can do etc.
I've mentioned this one before and I think boys in particular will love it. They can personalize their own lego character with the online editor, changing accessories and expressions until they are happy. Use the arrows to scroll though different choices, and even add text to shirts! After that, it's a simple matter of taking a screen grab of their creation, before using it in the writing activity of their choice. My shirt says "tuff girls rule", but I think my avatar's fierce expression is at odds with her tools of choice.
Bless This Chick
At Christmas last year, I used Bless This Chick to build a festive avatar for my own email signature. This reminds me of playing dress-ups with my dolls and is very cute. I know it's not politically correct to make gender preference predictions, but something tells me girls will love this one. Make sure your kids have a really good look around as there are all sorts of choices to scroll through.
Muggins has a range of basic avatars to choose from, both human and animal. After you choose one, you can select outfits, scene and props, even change the mood. I could not get past the finish screen, so had to take a screen grab of my character. (If you need screen capture software, I like Skitch and Grab for Mac, and have heard great things about Jing.)
Robot Building Station
Part of the Smarty Games site, this is a very simple place for young kids to build their own robots from a limited number of features. You can print or take a screen grab.
Build Your Wild Self
One of my favourite avatar builders, this lets kids choose from a range of human and animal features to create something quirky and new. As you can see, I expressed some elements of my personality hitherto hidden from my readers. The site lets you print or share, and of course, you can take a screen grab.
If you don't mind annoying video ads that start each time the page refreshes, AND you don't mind that features "cost" (they give you 2500 free coins once you save), you might like to visit Meez with your kids. I now know enough about 99.9% of germs to open my own Dettol business, but I quit trying to make an avatar. I'm not usually so negative, but Meez just didn't feel like a good place for kids or chickens.
Designing an avatar will be an end in itself for some kids. Others will go on to design a cast of thousands. Some will use their avatars to dictate characters for the video or board game they are creating. Some might even write a short play about their characters. Even if the avatar only forms the portrait section of a simple Wanted poster, you have the satisfaction of knowing your kids have been involved in creating and writing, while having fun online.
A definite Book Chook win-win!
If you know any other free avatar building sites you think would be useful to kids, please let me know via comments or email (Contact Me tab.) Later this week I will have another post about avatars suitable for encouraging kids to write, with historical avatars, gadgets and more.