Apr 4, 2011

GoGo What?!

The reviews that I have been doing this school year for the TOS Review Crew have by and large been for the older kids, so when I had a chance to review online learning games for the youngers free in exchange for a review I was excited.

The games that we reviewed are GoGo Kabongo, designed "to help promote and support early reading skills in children ages 4 to 7". These are skills such as verbal rehearsal, verbal memory, comprehension, simultaneous processing, alphabet knowledge and attention and focus. Kabongo has children building habitats as they move through games such as "Twister Top", "Galaxy Gardens" and "Laughter Lake".

My observations...

We had difficulties getting logged in and getting the games to work for us at first. This was frustrating to say the least. The support we received from the staff of Kabonga was exemplary, however, and they walked us through the process and we had no other such difficulties in the almost two months since that time. We had occasional "freezing" of the games which proved frustrating, although this problem has occurred less and less as time goes on and every contact we have had with the support staff has really exceeded our expectations. I suspect that pretty much every issue that we had will be addressed given the attentive nature of the support that we received; the program is in "beta", being fine-tuned. I personally do not care for the use of slang and similar pop culture aspects used to engage children. I do not speak to my children that way ("I am so into that look!" is just not something that I say very often!) and it...well, to be honest, it irritates me. I find it cloying. My older children (who I found myself calling upon to help the youngers get logged in, etc if I was busy elsewhere) were likewise annoyed.

What I absolutely cannot be irritated by, however, is the enjoyment that my children ages 4-12 got from the game. My ten and twelve year-olds are likely beyond the target audience of the game, yet they still found it enjoyable, in fact my twelve year old hounded me one day as I wrote a newsletter for our dairy customers "hurry up mom, please, and unlock the next section so I can keep playing!" Noah (6) repeatedly asked if he could "do Kabongo" for school, telling me that he likes "getting to make things". The games were, in all reality, beyond my almost three year old, although he enjoyed going through the motions and shared with everyone he could that he was doing school as well, "his kamoongo!"

I appreciated the fact that they could play and be building foundational skills. Every week I received an email from Kabongo for each child, letting me know what skills were worked on and the level at which they had progressed. Additional learning activities for parents to continue working on skills were suggested to "Extend the fun and learning with this activity you can do at home." One such example...

"Attention Can Be Controlled and We Can Use Speech to Do It.

Model this exercise for your child by talking through a task out loud. First, summarize the task by saying, “If I want to make your breakfast, I’ll need to get the raisins, oatmeal, milk, etc.” As you engage in the task, summarize where you are in the process: “I have a bowl, now I need to get the milk from the refrigerator”. Talking through the task demonstrates the self-regulation aspect of planning and attention, and shows your child how you resist becoming distracted from the task by talking to yourself. This self-talk eventually becomes a habit of thought and internalized by your child. Then let them try it out with an easy, multi-step task like brushing their teeth or picking up toys."

Overall this product is an asset for our home. It gives us something that can 'entertain' the youngers while we do school with the 'olders'; something of constructive value that the youngers look forward to and claim as their own. It helps me in the midst of a busy week to keep track of their activities in a condensed manner and reminds me to look for educational opportunities during everyday life, things I know but that are so easy to forget in a busy crazy life on a dairy farm in the spring when days may be filled more with baby goats than math facts and phonics!

Kabongo works similar to what they call an "app-style fee format", with a one-time fee of $4.95 per habitat opened. The good news is that if you think that Kabongo may work for your children, you may try some of the levels for free.

All in all I am glad that we had this chance to deviate from the high school level reviews and enjoy something for the little guys.

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