The Book Chook believes the very best way for a child to learn to read is to be talked to, sung to, and read aloud to from the moment she's born. I also believe there's a danger in spending too much of our time glued to some kind of screen. In the 21st century it's vitally important to find a balance for ourselves and our kids. We need to spend some time with screens, but to spend the most time interacting with other people and our environment - flying kites, sharing stories, dancing by the ocean, and hugging those we love.
However, when it is screen time, it makes good sense to find something kids will both enjoy and gain benefit from. If you think your youngster would like to visit virtual worlds like Adventureland and Storyland, play games with rhyming, follow along with stories and songs, race a buggy, go hang gliding, create works of art and more, may I suggest you check out JumpStart?
One look at the JumpStart site and you can tell it's bright, colourful and entertaining. But does it teach anything?
The Knowledge Adventure/JumpStart people seem to have decided the best way to build a successful online product is to
a) create a well-researched and planned product
b) gear it for education AND entertainment
c) give value by constantly adding new features
Yes, JumpStart teaches, in that it provides hundreds of opportunities for learning to take place. There are so many problem solving, critical thinking, creative, math and literacy activities, all bundled up in a coating of motivation and fun. One of the many things I liked about JumpStart, was the fact that it has different levels of difficulty (admittedly, I never made it off "easy"), and a huge range of activities. It seems the designers are going to keep adding to the worlds, providing more value for a child's online experience.
JumpStart also forgives. I gave it the Book Chook works. I goofed off, changed my mind, got impatient, didn't follow instructions. For the most part, JumpStart was patient with me, repeating directions, encouraging me to try again, providing navigation, help and chances to go over things. (I did manage to freeze the game once or twice, but that may have been a browser glitch.) Like all online games, JumpStart has loading times, and kids will need to be patient for several seconds while each new stage of the game loads.
Another plus in my eyes, was that the songs in JumpStart are actually ones an adult can bear to listen to over and over again. I loved the cute little Jukebox - "ABC Harmony" had my wings flapping and toes tapping immediately.
There are activities to practise letter and sound recognition, books to read along with, movies to watch and sing along with, cars to race around on, gold to grab, puzzles to solve - the list goes on and on. I entered the JumpStart virtual world four times for hours at a stretch, yet I know there was so much that I didn't get to experience.
The JumpStart blog is also a fascinating place. Artists who developed JumpStart show behind-the-scenes glimpses of their creation process. There are craft and snack suggestions, ideas for science activities, tips for making spelling fun, and many more.
I believe that JumpStart - used in conjunction with a parental philosophy of reading aloud from children's literature, talking and listening, playing, creating and pretending - makes a great choice for screen time. I'd recommend it for children as young as 3-4, with parental guidance. If your three-year-old wants to play video games, better for him to play something specifically designed with his needs in mind, than something inappropriate. I can see 8 or 9-year-olds jockeying for position at the keyboard to try out the games.
Book Chook Special Offer: If you take advantage of JumpStart's free one month trial, you'll certainly find activities to satisfy the whole family. Better still, leave a comment here AND send me an email to let me know you and your kids would be interested, and I'll enter you in the draw to win a FREE THREE month's membership, courtesy of the friendly people from Knowledge Adventure/JumpStart.