When the opportunity to review a new online reading program arose, I eagerly volunteered (maybe even begged a little) to be a part of the Crew chosen to review the product. I have three young-uns who are early readers, or pre-readers, and I know they all love a chance to "do school" online...learning disguised as fun.
Happily for us, we were chosen (yay!!), and as soon as the email instructions for downloading the program were received, we gathered around the computer to get things set up and get started. Our introductory email explained that Ooka Island requires an extensive download onto the hard drive of your computer (at least 2 gigs), so we expected a long wait and practiced patience. Well, silly me didn't realize (I am decidedly un-techie) that the netbook we use for Firefly and Cowboy's online work would not handle that sort of thing. I started the download, it proceeded...slowly...as in hours...we practiced more patience...and then it finally seemed as if it was going to work. Yippee!! Anticipation and jubilation faded to disappointing reality when it did not. Bummer.
Thankfully, I am not shy about asking for help, so I emailed the company and they patiently explained (without making me feel silly) that the program would not work with a netbook (not enough memory...duh), and that I would need to install it on a desktop or regular laptop. Though installing it on the computer downstairs meant I could not monitor the children and work on my laptop at the same time since my computer has to stay upstairs (because Boo has halfway disassembled it and if I move it, it may fall apart...sigh), we figured it needed to be done. So we started the download process again, with my three eager Amigos again practicing their patience.
Not so long later (less than an hour, I think...we were gone that long, though), we sat down to try our latest cool learning tool. The Three Amigos clustered around me bouncing happily through the catchy intro scenes and commenting about the fun characters and bright graphics. When we reached the log-in screen, they excitedly pointed out their picture log-in icon (the program uses pictures so your pre-reading learners can log in on their own as long as the teacher is already logged in), and when the "play now" button appeared at last, they practically exploded with eagerness...especially Cowboy and Firefly, who were waiting to see which one of them might get to try the program.
That's it. That's the story. That's as far as it goes. We clicked on the button, and clicked again, and clicked again, and...you get the picture. Nothing. Sigh. What a let down.
Well, we're not the type to quit that easily, so we emailed the company again and received a prompt response requesting information about our system, which Techie Tex happily provided. Many days and emails later, the Ooka Island folks came to the conclusion that it was not our computer's error or inadequacy this time (or mine), but some glitch in their system that needed ironing out. They politely asked for us to be patient a bit more while they worked things out, hopefully to provide us with a new test model the next week.
Unfortunately, in spite of their efforts and our patience, that model is not yet available (hopefully next week, they say), so here I am with a review due, and I really can't tell you much about the game that you can't go see for yourself on their website. The game looks like it will be a lot of fun for whichever lucky kid gets to be the tester at our house. It is designed to take kids from pre-reading to reading (grades pre-K through 2nd grade), using educational activities and games. There is a library of online books, fun characters, catchy music, learning time balanced with game time, and upgrades you can buy with points you earn by completing activities. But that's all I can really tell you because we haven't tried it yet.
So, here's what I have learned from the Ooka Island web site:
- The storyline sounds appealing and fun. A villainous pig has taught his naughty cohorts to read and to use their increased abilities to capture and hold captive the illiterate Ooka elves. You must complete reading activities in order to free them. This crazy tale sounds like it will tickle almost any kid's funny bone.
- Students create their own personalized avatar to use throughout the game.
- Ooka Island uses the Ooka Method to teach your child to read. It combines phonological development with language-rich text and activities to increase reading comprehension and fluency.
- Your student must complete 20 minutes of fully directed FUN learning activities to earn 8 minutes of play time at the Pencil Playground.
- Each interactive activity, such as those at The Cave of Sounds, Bubbly Troubly, The Cake Factory, Clumsy Wacky Moving Company, Submarine Listening, and Alphabet Mountain, has a specific set of learning objectives targeted towards helping your child become a better reader.
- Your child will earn incentive stickers during learning time.
- Throughout their adventures, your student will earn tokens which can be used for bonus items such as avatar upgrades, customizing your treehouse, purchasing new playground equipment and virtual snacks, and much more.
- Unlock and collect 85 books in the Popcorn Library, where students can start reading books almost immediately with Zobot the Robot.
- Ooka Island is aligned with Common Core State Standards, which makes it a great after-school enrichment activity for home, private, and public schooled children.
- Children can also interact with the program via a microphone, which can help determine if they are reading the words correctly.
- Pricing: For one child it is $12.95 a month, $59.95 for six months, or $99.95 for a year. To add multiple children (up to four), the price only goes up to $19.95 per month, $99.95 for six, and $129.95 per year. Not bad for a program that takes your kids from not reading at all to reading independently!
Here's what I know from our limited experiences that you might find useful:
- You have to download a very large file onto your computer that will take up space for as long as you pay for a subscription to the game
- It takes up a lot of memory and might not be ideal for older model computers (like our school computer), or for those with slow internet connections
- It does not work on netbooks, which is a drawback for us since a netbook is one of the machines we use for school (I know several families that do this).
- Not quite all of the bugs have been worked out yet. I know that we were not the only ones who had issues, but the issues ARE being dealt with rapidly. The Ooka Island program is just out of Beta testing and I imagine it will be running more smoothly for everyone very soon.
- The customer service folks were extremely helpful, polite, and responded quickly and thoroughly to my questions. I know that they tried multiple ways to resolve issues with us and others. I feel that good customer service says a lot about a company...and their customer service was very good. They offered service by email, online, and by phone. I chose to use email, as it worked best for me. I appreciated all of their assistance. They have even extended our six-month subscription by a month since we did not get to try it out last month due to the issues stated above. Thanks!
I plan to keep checking my in-box for an email that says that the new test build is ready for us to try. I am hoping it will arrive this week, so the kids can dive in before we head off to the in-laws' house for Thanksgiving. I plan to post an update telling our impressions of Ooka Island once things are straightened out.
In the meantime, if you are interested in reading about what others who were actually able to try the program thought of Ooka Island, then check out the TOS Review Crew blog.
You can also sign up for a 14 day free trial HERE, to see if your student likes it and to make sure it works for your system. That sounds like a good deal to me.
If you are interested in purchasing Ooka Island, there is a special running for you right now. If you use the Promo Code LAUNCHSPECIAL30, you will get 30% off on a monthly subscription!
Disclosure: I received a subscription to Ooka Island for the purposes of trying out the program in my homeschool and reviewing it here on my blog. I have related to your our own experiences with the product, and I do not expect or guarantee that they are the same as experiences you may have or have had. If you have questions about what I have stated here, please feel free to contact me or comment on this review.