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?


Minecraft, Turtles, and Star Wars...oh my!

by Karen

Something that no one ever told me about parenthood was that there would be a revolving door of interests that my child will commit every iota of passion his little body can muster into loving, before leaving them collecting dust in his room - or the back of his mind. 

In the last three years (he's almost 7), here's a rough idea of what we've run through:

  1. Thomas the Tank Engine
  2. Star Wars (this one has remained constant, because I am doing my best to raise him right)
  3. DC Comics (so far, not much interest in Marvel)
  4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 
  5. Sonic
  6. Minecraft
  7. Angry Birds
  8. Skylanders
  9. The LEGO Movie
  10. All things Mario (of Nintendo fame)
  11. LEGO Chima
  12. LEGO Ninjago
  13. Even LEGO Friends (because toys are not for boys and girls, they're for kids big and small)

It's possible I've forgotten more than what's on the list above. One of the best parts about my little man's passionate dedication to each of these interests is that he wants to inhale every morsel of information about them that he can. He's a fairly advanced reader and he loves nothing more than getting character encyclopedias, handbooks, and anything else he can get his hands on to read. He's also not above mixing his interests. I adore that Brandon's school allows him to bring these books every single day he wants. They are eager to encourage reading of any kind.

Two years ago, on Valentine's Day, I bought Brandon his first LEGO set. It was just a small generic set, but now he's hooked. He also got the idea from Evantube (careful showing this channel to your kids - it's a bit addictive) that he should keep his boxes, in pristine condition. 

So we do.


Ah, the things you'll do to foster the interests your kids have. (Velcro is your friend.)

It's fun and mind-dizzying and I know more about each of the things on that list than I ever wanted to know. Of course, fostering these interests along with a strong love of reading means that he's keen to educate me and his dad on every minute detail. 

Sounds fun, right?

So, what is your little minion into these days? :)

So, what is your little minion into these days? :)

Karen Wilson is a mom to Brandon (6) and wife to Matt (who is glad to have a 6-year-old as a new excuse to play with toys...er, LEGO). Her latest claim to fame is having found enough LEGO studs to buy Lord Business in The LEGO Movie video game. She's thinking of starting a business - Stud Finder for Hire.

An ode to an app

My kid has been playing with the iPad for a long time and we have tried a lot of learning apps; some have been bigger hits than others. Some she has loved and I have hated because I don't understand what they were actually teaching. We've had some big hits that she still plays with, like the Monkey Preschool apps that I recommend to anyone looking for a toddler or preschooler friendly game. Last week I downloaded the Super Why! app from PBS Kids.

This is my ode to that app.


In the mornings we tend to watch CBC Kids while I'm getting some a bit of work done, and I had noticed that the kid got into Super Why! and was doing well with the sounding out of works with the Super Why team. I figured the show would have an app so I went looking and downloaded it.

When the kid plays the app, which has all four main characters doing different activities with letters and words. Princess Pea sings, and right along with her my daughter says 'S-P-E-L-L spell!'

She finds the sounds, makes the words, sings and laughs. This app is working her towards reading more than any other she's played so far and I love to watch it. When I sit down with her with workbooks or a crayon on some paper she doesn't get as involved as she does with the Super Why! team.

I give it an A+.


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App Review: Lola's ABC Party

By Amy theme_enMy daughter is a big fan of games we play on the iPad and over the years I've found a few really great ones, but as she grows I'm always looking for new apps to help her learn and have fun.

Watching the video introducing Lola's ABC Party I noticed right away that the skills the app is teaching are skills we have been working on (letter sounds, drawing letters, etc) and that it has a format that she has liked in the past, of several mini-games inside the game, and when you're done a set of mini-games you get to build yourself a party – a bowl of ice cream, balloons, hats and cake.

The game is bright and colourful, and the kid liked Lola. The mini-games were similar to ones she had played before, but the first game where you find letters based on their sound was a bit tough with letters like 'I' – even I thought they were making the 'E' sound. Overall I could see what they were teaching, and she enjoying the rewards she got after each level. She did tell me one or two things was too hard for her, but with a bit of help and encouragement she kept going.

party_roomShe really liked being told she was smart as a panda, and she loved getting to add toppings to the ice cream, blow up balloons, and decorate a cake.

Before I even got to show her the app she found it for herself and Daddy reported that she was giggling away. When I asked her if she like it she said yes, which is enough for her to keep trying and learning more about phonics and that's good enough for me.

Amy is mom to three year old The Kid and a 7 year old schnauzer named Henry. You can read her blog at amyboughner.ca where she writes about motherhood and anything else that’s on her mind. She was compensated for this review but the views are her own.


Learning through gaming

by Lara Kiernan loves to play video games. On the computer, on the iPad, on the Wii - wherever we'll let him. I try to make sure that he gets a variety of games to play. Sure he can play angry birds and where's the water, but sometimes I want him to play something that challenges him to think a bit more.

Scribblenauts is a game that gets the player to figure out how  to get through the levels by typing in words for items they need or actions they need to do. It takes a lot of thought to figure out what tools are needed and then how to spell the word.

I loved that Kiernan loved this game but the thing is, he can't spell, at all.  So playing this game became "Mommy, how do you spell tree?" "Mommy, how do you spell magic box?" "Mommy, how do you spell green potion?"

So I came up with a plan!  He had to TRY to spell each word three times.  If he couldn't do it, then he would draw a picture in his newly created Pictionary and I would then print the name of the word underneath the photo for future reference.

It made me feel better about letting him play games too much because he was alternating between being creative on paper and being analytical on the iPad.  Seemed like a great mix to me.

What creative ways have you come up with to turn the every day into something educational?

Lara is mom to five year old Kiernan and three year old boy/girl twins Quinn and Juliette. Between the kids and her social media consulting business, she spends most of her time running frazzled.

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