Do you have a budding zoologist in your house? Or perhaps you host a wanna-be park ranger, like me? Cowboy, age seven, is our resident ranger and he LOVES to put on his explorer vest, deck himself out in all his gear (binoculars, bug grabber, collection jars, magnifying glass, etc.), and head outside for outdoor adventures, usually bringing home something with six legs or more to draw in his nature notebook and look up in one of our many books (or on the internet).
Do you have a handy dandy bug grabber? I think you need one. It's very cool!
Sometimes it's rainy outside, though, and as the days get chillier, thoughts turn to more indoor activities, and it's nice to have a few fall backs for days when I just need to get something done or to work with one of the other Amigos. Recently, we were offered a free Premium membership to Zoo Whiz, an online game produced in Australia (so you get to hear all the fun accents and Australian terms for praises) to help kids ages 5-15 with math, reading, grammar, spelling, and phonics.
Built around the theme of a zoo, your child will have opportunities to choose a subject area and level, then complete problems in one of the three areas (maths, reading, words) in order to earn coins. These coins can be used either to buy games at the arcade or to purchase animals for their "zoo."
The "zoo" is basically a collection of all of the animals they earn/buy, divided by habitat and animal type (there are animals of all types, plus some mythological creatures, dinosaurs, and extinct animals). Your child will get to learn about their animal by reading the animal's "card." Your child will learn about habitats over time (if they do not already know about them), and they will become familiar with which animals fit in each habitat when they check out their card collection at "The Biodome."
Unfortunately, at this point, there is no way to interact with the animals...they are not wandering around a virtual habitat, you can't give them a personalized name, or anything like that. Basically, the animals are simply virtual stickers or virtual cards in a collection book, and other than look at them, there is nothing you do with them. I will admit that this diminished my zoologist's interest somewhat. He wanted to play with and "feed" the animals, or at least see them walking around...However, the collection process is still interesting enough that when he was asked to go play Zoo Whiz, he did not complain. Instead, he'd grab a sibling (usually a younger one) and they'd work together to solve problems and choose animals.
You do get to personalize your animated "zoo keeper" a little bit, and Cowboy liked that part. He chose the one on the very left of the picture above. It reminds me of him when he's all decked out in his explorer gear. He even got a hat just like that one for his birthday.
You can see his poor nose where he did a face plant on concrete at his birthday party...
He's a trooper, though, and got up with a smile.
Zoo Whiz offers games at "the arcade" in addition to the animal stickers/cards you collect. My zookeeper usually used his earned coins to buy more animals, but he did play games from time to time. You get to play each game one time for free and after that you have to use coins to play the games. There is a limit to how long you get to play, so your child can't get fixated on the games and avoid the learning. Either time will run out, or they will run out of coins and have to do more learning to earn more. Cowboy says he really liked the game "Paint 'n Play" and would sometimes give up coins to play it.
There are multiple levels within each age/ability grouping. You can set what you want your child to work on in your parent account, or your child can change the level if they find the work they are trying to do is too easy or too difficult. The problems are narrated within the easiest reading section (age 4-6 only offers "reading" as a subject) for the youngest students. No other areas offer the option of narration of the questions or answers at this point. I hope they plan to add a "read this" button in the future as I believe this would add a lot to the program. Some kids are higher in the math skills than their reading skills, for example, and being able to hear the problems read alound would allow them to advance more effectively, and it's a good accomodation for different types of learners. There were times when Firefly (age 5) wanted to try the program, but she does not read and I couldn't always have Cowboy there to read the problems out loud for her.
Parents can check up on their students' progress to see which areas need work. The happy faces change according to how your child is doing.
Below are some examples of maths, reading, and phonics screens. As you can see, there are a variety of subjects covered on multiple levels. We really only used the "ages 5-7" section, though Ladybug did try out a few of the next level of problems and had a nice time earning coins for her brother to spend. She wasn't as motivated to play the game, though. I don't think it was "girlie" enough for her. She'd rather play with her dolls or sew at this point (though on nice days you will still find her up in a tree...go figure). Firefly (age 5) liked it when Cowboy would sit behind her and read the questions, then she'd click the answer and get to help him choose a new critter when they earned enough coins.
The kids all thought the Australian accents and the praise that was given profusely (out loud with that awesome Aussie lilt) were a lot of fun...Cowboy liked hearing what each new correct answer would give him in the way of encouragement each time. He always smiled and laughed when he played Zoo Whiz. He never grumbled or groused. However, he also didn't beg to play it, if that says anything. I think he would have wanted to play it more often if there was actual interaction with the animals, such as a zoo room where you'd go to actually see your animals wandering around, or a place where you could at least name them, then print up their personalized card to keep at home.
All in all I'd say that for a fun supplement or a way to give your younger children something to do while you work with another child, Zoo Whiz is a nice idea. It is not meant to replace any of your curriculum...just to be a little bit of drill and practice in an entertaining and motivating way. In my opinion, I don't think it is currently worth the $59.95 price that was initially advertized (I feel it needs more content, more games, and more added to the animal collection process...they indicated to us that they are in the process of adding more to the game and that content is building each month), but there is currently a SALE going on that you might want to take advantage of if you have an animal lover in your own home zoo and want to give the Premium option a try.
If Zoo Whiz sounds like something one (or more) of your kids would like, for a LIMITED TIME ONLY you can purchase a year-long premium membership for only $14.95. This allows everything the free membership offers, plus access to premium animals, more parental controls, and more games. This price will not last forever, so if it interests you, go sign your child up for a free membership and try out Zoo Whiz today. Once you know they like it, now is a great time to buy that Premium Membership. Zoo Whiz is great for those rainy or chilly days when your wanderers can't wander outside and need a little something to do since it is educational and fun at the same time.
My wanderer wandering at the park...
To see what others had to say about Zoo Whiz, visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.
Disclaimer: I received one free year's subscription for the purposes of reviewing Zoo Whiz here on my blog. All opinions you read are my own and are based solely on our own experiences using the product. No other compensation was received.