We have enjoyed several online programs recently so the kids were excited to try a new program-Zoo Whiz!
The bank of educational content in ZooWhiz contains over 17,000 carefully-crafted, finely-incremented learning activities, giving comprehensive coverage of maths, punctuation, spelling, grammar, vocabulary, word skills, phonics, phonemics and reading. (From the website)
The program is designed around a zoo theme. The student is the zookeeper and must complete the learning activities in order to earn coins. Once enough coins have been earned, the student can use them to purchase various animals for his zoo. There is also an arcade where the student can play games, using the coins earned to pay for game playing time.
While a Zoo Whiz account is free, you can upgrade to a premium membership for $14.95 per year. We received the premium membership which gives you access to more learning activities, a larger selection of zoo animals, and additional games. The premium membership also offers more detailed reports for parents as they track their student’s progress.
You can take a video tour of Zoo Whiz content on their website.
How did we use this product?
I was able to create an account for each child. That account was then linked to my parent account where I could adjust settings and choose the level for each category. Once I had set the starting level for each child, they could not play games below those levels. In this way, the program encourages them to continue progressing in each subject area.
The kids would begin their time with Zoo Whiz in the Learn and Earn house. This is where all the learning activities are accessed. They would choose which subject they wanted to work on and they would begin completing activities to earn coins. I noticed that Curly and Tiger were progressing more quickly in some subject areas but not in others. That’s when I realized that they would only play games from one subject. So, I encouraged them to work a little in each subject area each time they accessed Zoo Whiz. Curly need a few nudges in the Words category and Tiger needed me to remind him to do the Reading category. Math always seemed to get done at our house-maybe it’s just because it’s listed as the first subject.
Once the kids had collected some coins, they would go to the Biodome where you can purchase zoo animals. In the Biodome, there is a large number of animals available for purchase. The animals are priced differently and some endangered or rare animals cost more coins than common animals. You can use the earned coins to purchase animals to put in your zoo. The shop also gives you the option to review the animals in your zoo. You can click on any of your purchased animals and review facts about that animal. My kids would spend most of their time scrolling through the animal options and meticulously selecting each animal for their zoo.
In the Arcade, you can use your coins to play games. The games are divided into age categories to help students choose one within their level of abilities. Each game must be unlocked with coins and then a clock is set to 3 minutes. Once those 3 minutes are up, the game time has ended and the student must use additional coins to play again. My kids enjoyed the Painting program where they were able to paint a coloring page with various colors.
In the Milestones section, you can track progress. You can click on each subject area to see how far a student has progressed and what topics have been covered. My kids were not interested in their progress-only in how many coins they earned. I used this section to see what topics they were covering and what topics would be next.
What didn’t we like?
The program contained ads which would pop up between learning activities. Some of the ads were for a premium membership-which we already had. In addition, there was often a warning screen which explained that if the program was too difficult or too easy, the learning levels could be adjusted. Each time this screen showed up, my children would become upset thinking they had done something wrong. I had to keep reminding them to click the button on the bottom of the screen to bypass the warning and ad pages. I found these additional ads and warnings to be frustrating and they interrupted my children’s focus as they worked on the program.
Many portions of the program (such as the math) do not have an audio component. In other words, the instructions are not read to the child. This meant that Tiger could do very little of Zoo Whiz independently. He required either Curly or me to be sitting next to him for the entire time he played on Zoo Whiz. I wish that the program had the option to have instructions read to the child.
While the kids really enjoyed looking at the different animals available for purchase and choosing one, they were disappointed that they could do nothing further with the animals. The animals are placed in a list where you can read further information about them. My kids wanted to put them in habitats or buy food or supplies for their zoo animals. They also wanted to be able to interact with the animals in some way. They were disappointed that the animals were only picture cards that they earned. They were hoping for animated animals to live in their zoo.
My kids preferred to purchase zoo animals rather than play the arcade games. And I think that was because of the very short time limit on each game. Because my kids are younger, it takes them longer to figure out how to play each game and to complete activities. A 3 minute time limit on their games was entirely too short for them and left them frustrated. I would prefer an option to set a time limit for the child or to purchase additional minutes with the coins. When they were working in the coloring game, they rarely completed an entire picture before the clock ran out. This was very upsetting to Curly.
Each subject of the program has multiple steps for a child to complete as they work through each level. I wish there were some type of tracking bar across the bottom of the screen so the student could see how much progress they have made so far and how many more questions before a new step was complete. My kids would work on several problems and then stop for the day. There was no natural stopping point or any indicator of how many more problems in each step to motivate them to complete that portion for the day. I think a way to see progress as they work through the problems would be helpful to the student.
It is also important to note that this program was developed in Australia. Therefore, we found a few of the activities were confusing because we did not understand the terminology. Australian English is slightly different than our American English! The differences caused Curly to incorrectly answer some of the questions because she was unsure about the questions or instructions. For example: one math activity instructed her to begin at 2 and count on 4. She did not understand that she was supposed to add 4. Sometimes she would come to me stating “I don’t understand what they’re saying!” She had a few moments of frustration due to the differences in English.
What did we like?
My kids did enjoy the variety of activities in the learning portion of Zoo Whiz. The activities were appropriate for the age levels listed and, once the instructions were understood, didn’t cause any frustration for my kids. I felt like the target age ranges were accurate.
My kids also enjoyed the wide selection of animals in the biodome. We had fun reading through all the animal types and looking at the information.
The idea of earning coins to purchase animals was very motivating for my kids. They were eager to complete learning activities to earn coins so they could choose more animals. I liked the reward system. I also liked that the same coins could be used for arcade time as well. Curly enjoyed having the choice of how to spend her coins to either buy an animal or play a game.
What did we think overall?
My kid enjoyed the program but working on Zoo Whiz usually meant that I needed to be available to read instructions and help with some of the activities. I also had to be present to get them past the ads since they were uncomfortable passing by the ads without first showing them to me. This meant that Zoo Whiz was not an independent program for us. While my kids did enjoy browsing through the animals and purchasing them, they were content to only work on the learning activities for a short time before moving on to something else. Based on their feedback and the amount of time it required of me to help them with the program, I think we will use Zoo Whiz sparingly as an extra when other school work is complete.
I think this program would be best suited for children who were fluent and independent readers. That way, a child could complete the activities independently and also enjoy reading the animal information by himself. I think older children would benefit more from the game time because they would be more familiar with computers and computer games and able to complete more activities in the short 3-minute time frame.
Zoo Whiz would be best used as a supplement to existing studies. The program does not teach concepts and it requires that students read fluently in order to follow the instructions and complete the activities.
Check out the other Crew reviews on the Crew blog!
Disclaimer: I received a free membership for this online product at no cost to me in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine.