Letting My Daughter Play Wild in "Animal Jam"

My daughter played her first online game at the age of three. We were flying to Winnipeg for a family event and needed something to keep her entertained while on the airplane and during what could have been an otherwise boring family event for a preschooler (there was only one other child in attendance). The game was Monkey Preschool LunchBox and I still remember how surprised I was at how quickly she mastered my iPod touch. Swiping, clicking and figuring out what was actually going on were nothing for her.

Since then my daughter’s “screen time” has been very limited. I have never been a proponent of video or online games for young children and my daughter (now 7) has never been a kid who needs to be convinced otherwise, but recently she asked if I could download an app on my iPad called, “Animal Jam” for her to play. She wanted to play because a friend of hers talked about the game all the time and she was, naturally, curious. For some of you this game may be old news, but for us – online games was a new parenting territory.

Before agreeing I searched online for details about the game and discovered WildWorks inc. created it for National Geographic and it centers around animals and the natural world. The game was made for children in her age group. Each player has their own animal and creates their own animal name, they can then interact with other players in the online world of Jamaa and earn money and sapphires toward decorating and upgrading their den or upgrading their animal and animal apparel (dragon winged tiger anyone?).

Animal Jam Online Game

Parents can set the controls so their child can only communicate with other players through preset phrases, such as “Hey everybody!” or “Want to trade with me?” (Because you can trade den furniture, unicorn hats, flip flops and many other fun treasures).

My daughter likes the game because she gets to be a horse (her absolute favourite animal). She is only “buddies” with her real life friends and her grandmothers, who she convinced to join Animal Jam and only play when she is around because why else would they play Animal Jam?

Somewhere amidst the many inner-game video games, treasure hunts and parties there are also educational tidbits about animals and plants… but don’t be fooled, that’s not why my daughter plays (but I often read over her shoulder and together we have learned a lot!). I like the educational aspect. I also like that the app and game itself is free to play (however sapphires, which are used to “buy” higher end treasures, cost real money).

I was worried the introduction of video games would be a bad thing for my otherwise creative girl who is outside whatever the weather, but other than a few times where I had to take the iPad away because homework needed to be done, she seems to understand there is a time and place for online games and that if it is nice outside then I don’t want her on the iPad (and she doesn’t seem to want to be anyway). I doubt it will stay this way, but for now… I’ll savour the moment.

I like Animal Jam and think it was a nice introduction into online games for our family. I grew up playing Pong on my family’s Commodore Vic20 and remember playing that for countless hours, so who am I to take away from my daughter having similar memories (albeit with more advanced graphics – and in colour)?

So, tell me, what video or online games do your children play?