(There's a sleep post just under this one, so scroll down.)
The people at DreamBox Learning sent me a free trial of their online games that teach math to kids in Preschool through Grade 2, so we gave them for a test run here Chez Moxie.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should tell you that one of my freelance jobs is training for a different company that makes video games that teach kids math, but they are geared towards kids in grades 3 through early high school. So I know plenty about video games as teaching tools, as well as the interplay of math content and game play. (And if anyone's a math teacher out there, particularly for grades 4-8, who wants a highly engaging activity to get kids to drill themselves on math without even realizing it, shoot me an email and I can direct you to that company. It's only sold to schools right now, not individuals.)
So I came to DreamBox both as an interested parent, but also as someone who knows what online games can do if they're done well. Overall, I was highly impressed with the site and the games, for a lot of reasons:
- The parental controls are complete but not excessive. I said to R, "Will you test out a video game someone sent me to try?" and he was up and playing within about 5 minutes of the time I said that, even though I had to set up an account for him and one for T, and what he was allowed to do on it and how I wanted to be notified, etc.
- It has a lot of content. Enough different games for the kids to stay interested, and enough content within each game to make it engaging while reinforcing skills. It covers pre-math skills all the way up through skills for second grade.
- It's leveled for the age and skills of each child. It starts out with some games that test the child's level of ease with manipulating a mouse and tracking and following directions, then starts in testing the child's level of skill at math. From there it adjusts as the child's skills increase.
- The games are fun. The kids get to choose their own characters, and then pick from a bunch of different games in the adventure park. There's a pirate, and all kinds of other goofy stuff that I couldn't keep track of, but the kids loved. It's real games, not just math exercises with cute graphics.
The one bad thing about the game, from my perspective, was the narrator's voice, which sounded a little too enthusiastic in a Dora kind of way (Classic Dora, not the new, tarted-up Dora who no one will watch). I think hours of that would grate on my nerves something awful, but I also wouldn't let my kids play the game for hours. (The DreamBox people recommend 15 minutes a few times a week.) On the other hand, the music was so much better (read: quieter and less frenetic) than most of the video game music. So it might be a draw.
Also, and this isn't at all the fault of the game, my son R is used to playing more action-oriented games with a more adult feel, so he only went about 10 minutes per playing session before he wanted to go back to something involving chases or jumping or dirtbikes (I don't allow shooting games, but dirtbikes are fun). So I think if you have a kid who has either no gaming experience, or experience with games like Club Penguin and Wii Sports, they'll love this. But a kid who plays more adult games with more adult graphics might find it a little young in terms of look and feel. (R was still happy to start playing it every few days, he just didn't stick with it for long.)
T, who is almost 4, was just barely able to play the game by himself. So I think the ideal starting age would be 4 or above, with some mouse fluency.
DreamBox Learning is $8.95 a month, and you can do your own free two-week trial before you sign up. Check it out at www.dreambox.com.