A few years ago, I had a bit too much time to fill in Lauren's days, and I started letting her play computer games on my laptop. She quickly latched onto a few favorite sites, some educational and some just for fun. I found some excellent options that teach easy preschool skills -- identifying letters, counting objects, matching items, etc. She found ways to just watch videos when she gets on many of those websites.
Recently, we've been exploring a computer game that takes educational computer games a step farther than any other program we've tried. Instead of teaching basic preschool facts, GoGoKabongo helps the child develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, such skills as attention, memory, visualization, spatial awareness, comprehension and more. If you are interested in learning more about these important learning skills, you can check out their full explanations here.
The GoGoKabongo website was designed for 4-7 year olds. The complete game is divided into three habitats, and each habitat has three different learning games. You can start with access to Laughter Lake habitat for free, and access to additional habitats costs $4.95. Right now, they are having a special where you can sign up and get two free habitats (Laughter Lake and Galaxy Gardens). If you then want access to the full program (the additional games in Twister Top), you'd only pay $4.95. Please note that this is a one-time fee, not a subscription service like many other online programs.
I asked Lauren to show me her favorite game, and she picked Photo Safari in the Galaxy Gardens area. In this game, Lauren first hunts through the background scenery to find an animal to take a picture of. Then, the animal will show a specific object that it would like to have. Lauren hunts through the scenery again (often scrolling to different pages) to find the specified object. In addition to developing visual scanning skills, Lauren is also learning to pay attention to what object the animal shows her and then to remember that object when she's looking through the scene. Even when she takes a long time or doesn't choose the correct object, this game does not give her any reminder hints.
Another favorite game is the Design a Door activity in the Twister Top area. In this area, the student first sees a decorated door. She is given a short amount of time to look at the various shapes on the door. Then, the shapes are removed, and the child is supposed to redecorate the door to look like the original image. Again, this challenged Lauren's attention skills. She also learned to pay attention to details. For instance, she had to remember how many purple rectangles were on the door and how they were arranged. One of her first doors had two matching objects placed side by side on the door. Later door designs included multiple shapes in various layout combinations to remember.
I am very impressed with the skills that are addressed in the games. My favorite game is Going Buggy in the free Laughter Lake habitat. One of the cartoon characters reads a short story, and the student places objects in the scene so that it matches the description in the story. It starts off with fairly simple requirements, perhaps only needing one item added to the picture. As the student progresses, the stories become more complex, and more items are needed. For instance, a recent game required the background to be changed to nighttime, the bee to be put near the fire, the orange mushrooms to be added, and then the worm to be placed under the mushrooms. As Lauren works through the levels, she learns to pay attention to the story and then visualize the details on the illustration.
GoGoKabongo includes several parent-friendly features. I can easily check Lauren's progress for each individual game online, and I also receive weekly email progress updates. These updates often include suggestions for other learning activities that I can do with her. For children that love paper and pencil activities, there are a few mazes, dot-to-dots, and coloring pages available for free on the website.
Unfortunately, as much as I liked the games, Lauren didn't. Sometimes she was frustrated because the pages loaded slowly or because the game controls were difficult to figure out. I also suspect that she often asked to play on other websites because she's just more familiar with them and because she can sometimes just watch videos instead of playing games that require her to think. Nevertheless, I'm still very impressed with the quality of GoGoKabongo. This is an online program that I would definitely recommend to other parents. If nothing else, I think every parent that has a preschooler should join and try the free habitats.
If you'd like to read what other homeschool families thought about their time spent using GoGoKabongo, please visit The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew blog here.