I love getting the opportunity to review online programs with my children. Not only does it provide a fun, yet productive break from our “heavy” learning, but it also frees me up to devote some one-on-one time with the other child while they are still relatively dependent on me for learning. Not to mention the great computer skills they learn in the process!
One of the programs I recently was able to review is ZooWhiz, an Australian-based online learning tool for children 5 to 15. ZooWhiz covers math, reading, language and word skills, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and some phonics with over 17,000 different activities. The learning activities are grouped into three different subjects: math, words, and reading. Once the child selects the subject, he then selects the age range for the activities. Parents can set the “age floor” to ensure that children do not select activities below their age ability, and in the future, ZooWhiz is hoping to add more parental controls for choosing your child activities.
Children are given a series of questions/activities; a progress chart appears after 10 questions are answered correctly, charting the accuracy for that series of questions. The child is then asked if they would like to continue. To complete a set of questions took my children roughly 10 to 15 minutes. For 4-6 year olds, reading is the only activity provided, and at this level the questions are narrated for the child. These activities consisted largely of pre-reading skills: patterns, matching, identifying sounds, etc.
The math and words subjects began at an age range of 5-7 years; and these questions were not narrated. Because of this, Middlest was not able to work on these subjects unless I was with her to read the questions. Oldest worked through the beginning levels of all three subjects independently, at least most of the time. Occasionally, he wouldn’t understand the directions to an activity, or the Australian pronunciation of a word would give him trouble. And there was one instance where the activity was actually programmed with the incorrect answer. (He was asked to spell the word “tilt” but the correct letters were not given to spell the word and “tilp” was recognized as the correct answer, particularly frustrating for my perfectionist son.)
In addition to the learning activities, children earn tokens for correct answers (plus 100 bonus tokens for logging in at home). These tokens can be used to purchase playing time at the virtual arcade or to purchase animals for their own zoo. The animals range from your typical zoo animals to mythical and extinct creatures like the unicorn or dinosaurs. Though it would have been nice to see these “purchased” animals in a zoo setting, the animals were really more like stamps that the children added to their collection on a page. But my kids didn’t mind; they are still at the age where stickers are all the rage, so a unicorn, dinosaur, or bison sticker was just as thrilling a reward as an actual virtual zoo.
The arcade had three different games that were considered age-appropriate for my kids. Each of these games worked on enhancing reasoning and computer skills versus learning skills. Both of my kids had an immediate favorite among these games—Paint n’ Play. For 50 tokens, the child can play for 3 minutes: selecting a black and white picture to paint, selecting elements and people to add to the picture, and selecting the colors to paint with. At the end of 3 minutes, the picture is saved for the next session of play or replaced with a new picture. Middlest found that she would rather spend her tokens on this game than collecting animals; my creative child, she spent hundreds of hard-earned tokens playing round after round of painting pictures.
I found each subject to have appropriately challenging questions. While it is not a curriculum-replacement, it is definitely a fun and challenging supplement to any learning approach. And my kids loved it as much as I thought they would! You can sign up for a free account that allows the child 15 questions a day up to 45 questions a week. An upgraded PREMIUM account (currently 75% off at $14.95/year!) allows for unlimited play and unrestricted animals to choose from for the zoo, with more features coming.
The program is still considered in the early-release stage and plans for added features are in the works. Check out the website, play for free, or read what others thought at the Schoolhouse Review Crew.