Thursday, April 29, 2010

Education Vs. Games

I am always cautious when it comes to introducing my kids to the newest technology toys- I would rather see them exercising their bodies and brains. My daughter pleaded for a Nintendo DS for three years before I thought she was old enough to have one, and I am very picky about the games we purchase (they have to be both entertaining and educational.) But whether it is a boy/girl or birth order thing, it’s been harder to keep my son from idolizing technology games and gizmos. Throw in the fact that my husband has a small menagerie of gaming devices and wants to share these with said son and it becomes downright impossible.

But it wasn’t until these two gaming buddies downloaded a free, but what I consider pointless and violent wizard game from the Internet, that I thought I had better step in. If I couldn’t keep my son away from the games, I could at least expose him to those I thought were more educational in nature. Thankfully the JumpStart Company, very well known for their educational games, contacted me about a review of their online site, and timing being everything, I hurriedly accepted.

Unfortunately, start up wasn’t as easy as I thought, and most of this was due in part to our DSL router that was slowly dying. Our Internet connection grew slower and slower, and if you don’t have a fast Internet connection either through a DSL line or Cable modem, playing these online games is next to impossible. But even with our router fixed, there definitely was a learning curve when it came to figuring out how to set up individual players and where to go to actually start play. There are a lot of places that you can click on like connection to Facebook pages, inviting friends, and Wii games, and with each having it’s own drop down list, at first it can seem a little overwhelming. It also took a little time (and a couple disagreements) to figure out how to let each of my kids have their own avatar to play the games, but that’s because the kids wanted to play right away while I wanted to stop to read all the information.

But when things were finally up and running full force, and nobody could blame the other for changing their avatar character, the kids really enjoyed the JumpStart site. The site itself is aimed at kids ages 3-10, but it’s divided into “worlds”-each world has characters that help your Avatar explore and solve problems, and these worlds are more specifically rated for particular age groups. (I.e. Story Land is for beginner readers ages three to five, Adventure Land is for ages five to eight) There is also a downtown section where kids can customize their avatars with clothes and pets. You move your avatar to different worlds by clicking on the map in the corner of the screen or by using both the keyboard direction arrows and mouse. (Worlds that are for smaller kids utilize only the mouse.)

I was pretty blown away by the graphics-screen shots are detailed and in 3-D and to say that they are engaging is definitely an understatement. I also liked how JumpStart wasn’t all education or all entertainment. The kids could complete educational games (disguised as missions) that allowed them to practice reading or math, and they earned points for their successes. They could also explore each world and rack up points for negotiating obstacles along the way.

The games were a great fit for my seven year old son, but I had to keep watch to make sure he completed the educational parts of the missions-he was pretty content to just run around the different worlds. There is also some patience involved with the games because there is a small wait time while different worlds load. My son is also new to using a keyboard and mouse simultaneously, and being left-handed he initially had some trouble. His favorite worlds were Adventure Land, Future Land, and Marine Land, and each world had a nice combination of fun as well as teaching elements.

My eleven-year-old daughter enjoyed all the personal touches involved with the avatar characters-dressing them, adding and decorating their houses, and acquiring pets-but I insisted that she needed to participate in the learning activities as well, and she too was challenged by the games in Future Land because this area allowed her to practice her multiplication and division skills.

Our experience with this educational Internet site was an overly positive one, and I don’t hesitate about recommending it to any of you. But while I agree that the games are a good match for someone my son’s age, I am not sure that a three year old could handle or understand how to move the avatar around to the different communities. I am also hopeful that the company will add additional age ranges so that my daughter can continue to enjoy the site.
Check them out to see if they are a good match for you too.

The opinions expressed in this post are my own. I was only compensated with a trial membership for the sole purpose of writing a review.


  1. Sounds really good. My son has been spending more time on internet to play games lately. He's a lefty too.I'll be checking out their site. Thanks for the review Susan!

  2. wow, thanks for the heads up! My kids are right in that age range, so I think they would love that!

    They both have Leapster games, which I like because they're educational, and great for road trips. Our in laws bought us Wii for christmas, and we've barely used it (including Wii fit, I'm a slacker). Which I don't mind at all!!

  3. My kids had two levels of JumpStart when they were little and really liked them. It's cool that it's gone online now!

  4. Thanks for the informative review Susan. My kids are big on Internet games. I'm always on the hunt for educational options. I'll check it out. Happy Friday!! Hope to send you a note soon :)

  5. Very cool! So far my daughter hasn't played any online games but this site sounds like fun, I like that they have it broken down into sections for various age groups. Great review!

  6. My son has some Jumpstart PC games for toddlers. He still doesn't quite understand how to use them, but he likes watching the graphics and listening to the songs. I'm happy to know about this site for the future!

  7. We tried out JumpStart too and thought it was great. My kids thought creating their own character was so much fun and they both gave themselves capes and then ran around pretending to be superheroes. I liked it because it's fun and educational and it changes all the time.

  8. Great Job on the review! They wouldn't happen to have one in a teenage version where you wander around and learn how to tell whether a boy really likes you or just wants to be friends would they? ;)

  9. Thanks Susan. I actually sat with my almost 5 year old and we had a great time playing together. I agree that some stuff was a bit out of reach for her so I am hoping the website will continue to add some areas for kids under 6. congrats on your review writeup!

  10. Yonca, if you like Jump Start's educational games you can buy retail, then you will like the site.

    Molly, this is really the only Internet gaming site that I have liked, and I haven't checked out all the "bells and whistles" yet...

    Blue Violet, that's what got me interested.

  11. Septembermom, I just found out that you can download games from the site and they follow a set curriculum!

    Xenia, I probably wouldn't start your daughter on this until she expresses an interest, but it is a worthwhile site...

    Amo, keep this site in mind for the future.

  12. Tesa, that's what my daughter likes best about the site, and now they have a "hatch and raise your own dragon" which the kids love.

    MOPG, sorry, nothing for that. LOL!

    Areeba, I think the mouse and keyboard control is hard at that age, but the site really does hold their attention.

  13. Thanks for that review. We've played a few Jumpstart games that we got for free on CDs, but I haven't done much more than that yet. I'm always interested to hear about things that are both fun and educational, computerwise. Nino loves and, but he is growing a little old for their preschool stuff and still too young for some of the older games. This sounds like it might be a good fit for us!! Thanks.


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