Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Mom Who Doesn't Let Her Kids Play Video Games Reviews A Learning Computer Game

I accepted a free copy of JumpStart World, 1st Grade in return for reviewing the computer game for MomCentral. Having seen advertisements for it in the school Scholastic flyer, I knew the intent was for children to learn while also playing a game. In my house, the level of excitement rises exponentially when the promise of a video game lurks. Why?

Years before we had children, we decided to not allow our children to play video games. Neither of us would be able to enforce a no TV rule, but video games? Right out the window.

Our main reason for denying video games could be logically discovered by our own playing of computer games. We would play all night, stopping only for snacks, bathroom breaks, or when the computer crashed. Make sure you read that as both of us, not just the man. Surely, combining both our genomes would create video game marathoners.

Still, with a move and knowing my children would be out of school for two weeks or more, I accepted the computer game--it's about learning! Math! Reading! Rewards! A market place! Caring for others!--as a makeshift way of supplementing my own teaching during the moving vacation.

Loading the program took quite a while, and when a first grader has seen the box before the program was loaded--big headache. Load the software and do the parent set up before the kid sees the box. The packaging itself lures the kid. She knew it belonged to her as did her younger siblings.

If we weren't in the middle of the move and agents of all kinds weren't calling me to speak of important items, all of this would have been easier. My daughter knows enough about the start icons of programs to begin on her own, but she didn't fully listen to the instructions to use the arrow keys, not the mouse to make the character move. It took a restart for me to understand how the movement would occur.

After figuring out the keys to use, she picked up on the motion and following her guide quickly. She jumped into the Unit 1 math activities with gusto. While I wasn't immediately impressed with the tasks, she enjoyed choosing just the right type of bug and driving a train to the proper item in a sequence. The rewards of the gems excited my daughter. Do boys earn something different? I would wonder about that. Do little boys care? Mine is too young to tell me.

Perhaps it is just my daughter's school, but shapes, sorting, and patterns were the focus of her kindergarten class, not first grade. Other, higher units, are obtained from the website. Our move prevented me from loading other units onto our version.

When she finished the math section, she moved onto the reading part of the program. This was a mixture of difficult hand/finger motions with rather easy tasks for her to complete. Letter sounds, recognition, and following directions to find related objects posed no difficulty for her. However, some of the games, which resemble Frogger and Tetris, required my daughter to work quicker than she's able. The frustration level was high. To keep her from being completely disheartened, I played a few games for her. She told me the actions; I only completed the physical action for her.

I found that my child did best while near me and when I could devote some time to helping her. The program does have a parent center for monitoring the child's progress. I found this useful when she needed to earn more gems for other activities, such as buying a decoration for her cabin the the "camp". I knew which games she needed to complete and how well she had done on other activities. If your child prefers you to be more hands-off, the parent center would be a wonderful way to see the progress.

One big positive about this game for my daughter revolves around the creation of artistic pieces. She has drawn and placed those drawings on billboards around the world. As art-crazy as she is, this activity thrills her. When she discovered that she could create patterns for decorating her cabin, she played with those for close to an hour. Remember what I said about combining genomes?

Younger children, at least mine, enjoy watching the older child play. My 4 year old coached her 6 year old sister on some of the games. In fact, my 4 year old enjoys watching her sister so much that she now wants to play with her own icon, which is possible. Up to three children can be entered at the start up of the program. Because I know she will need my dexterity to complete some tasks, my middle child's desire to play will be sated once the older one returns to school. My days of Atari playing were useful. Who would've thunk it?

Overall, JumpStart World delivers what is advertised. The activities are curriculum based and change each time the child plays. The interactions vary and challenge as the child progresses. My daughter adores playing so much that I invoked the "Easy Leave" Rule, which is if the kid is good about leaving a park, friend's house, mall, shop, video game, then I will allow that activity to occur again. My eldest now plays with a timer beside her. When it dings, she's done. If she complains (which she is apt to do), she loses the privilege of playing another session. After one loss of privilege, complaints are forgotten.

This game works as a skills reinforcer, not as a teaching tool. The frustration of my daughter at not being able to press the buttons quickly enough to complete a task worked against her learning a new skill set. Perhaps this is a result of the decision her father and I made to not allow the early playing of video games by our children. I also know that some of her frustration is due to her personality: she likes to get it right the first time. Add in the fact that I am juggling her needs at the computer along with the needs of a 4 year old who wants to play her own game and a two year old who is, well, two. Factor in a move, a new house, many bumps along the road, unpacking boxes, and frustration that leaks from my pores---I'm amazed that any of us are happy or awake enough to want to play on the computer.

I like it. My children love it. It could be a great gift for a kindergarten or a first grade student. Honestly, if you help out your advanced four year old, that kid could probably do some of the learning games as well. And, ugh, if I subscribe to get other units, does this mean I have reneged on my promise of not allowing video games? Because, well, I will subscribe. The activities are that good.


Melanie said...

Thanks for the tip on my blog! My Kindergartener was playing when I saw it, so I logged him out and back in so I could check it out. (sunshineisfree.blogspot.com)

jmb said...

Thanks for this Sarabeth, I am thinking about the Kindergarten level for my 4 1/2 yr old granddaughter. She is reading already and is very good with numbers. Do you think I should go for the Grade 1?

Hope all is well. Not a great time to move, but then it never is. A lot of work, especially with three kids and a dog.