After going to pre-school for a few years, my kids (ages 3 & 4 1/2) are right now taking a break from school as we prepare for our big cross-country move. We wanted to find a home learning solution that our au pair could administer while she watches the kids during the day, and ended up deciding on ABCMouse.com. As a number of friends have asked me personally for what I thought of it, I figured I’d post my thoughts here.
ABCMouse.com is a paid, on-line learning website – one that comprises quite literally thousands of activities for children ages 2-6. The site takes a step-by-step gradient approach to learning, starting out first with a basic lesson (game, really) teaching kids how to use the mouse. Then, once they have that, they can basically guide themselves with minimal adult involvement. You basically select which gradient your child is going to start out at, based on what you know of them & their skills, and then the site takes it from there.
The way their curriculum is structured, there are a few quite-valid ways for kids to go about using it.
There is a lesson board (the whiteboard shown in the middle of the graphic above) which takes the child on step-by-step lessons learning letters, numbers, phonics, math, etc, tying in lessons about the planet, animals, etc as appropriate. Finishing lessons rewards the child with “tickets”, currency they can then use to buy virtual pets from a pet store & care for them (a la Neopets).
Secondly, there are other features not part of the lesson plan that children can just go in & explore for themselves – namely a farm and a zoo, where they can click around and find out all sorts of facts about animals, hear what they all sound like, what they like to eat, etc. There is also a bookshelf where they can pick out books that are of interest to them. On this particular feature, you can either guide them toward books that are actually on their gradient – or they can just do a free-for-all and pick out whatever suits their fancy.
It’s suggested by the ABCMouse folks that whilst you can coach them to complete lessons and get with the program, doing the guided step-by-step lesson plan, it can also be extremely beneficial for kids to just be allowed to click around whatever they want, and to start formulating their own opinions about what they like to learn about and do.
My Kids’ Experience with ABCMouse.com
Now, my kids have only been working with ABCMouse since the end of November (i.e. about 2’ish months), with no more than about an hour or so per day in front of the computer. So, that said, my impressions and experiences are initial impressions – so take them as such.
That being said, here are my observations so far:
- Touchpad vs. Mouse: One thing I found out fast, is that my daughter – being bigger, had no problem picking up the use of the mouse. My son, with his smaller hands and less manual dexterity, had a much more difficult time with it – but didn’t seem to have nearly as much trouble with a touchpad. So, just something to think of when you set up a machine for your kids to work with this on.
- Immediate uptick in letter / number / word recognition: Whilst we have profiles in the computer for both my daughter (4.5 yrs) and my son (3 yrs), my son is usually totally content to just watch his sister and back-seat drive. But that being said, both of them have come a long way in the last two months in terms of letter vs sound recognition, number & double-digit number counting, as well as word recognition. They’re not “reading” yet, but they’ll both be close by the time we pull in to the fall. The easy-gradient approach to letters, with TONS of repetition has made it so they both work hard on their own with their own books now to sound out words & read roadside signs. Precisely the direction I was hoping for.
- Watch It on the Misunderstood Words: One thing to be aware of, is that whilst the curriculum developers at ABCMouse clearly had it in mind to not have children skipping gradients while studying, things they come in contact with in the system commonly have big misunderstood words – ones that you have to watch out for & clean up as they occur. And, unfortunately, some of the most interesting things to them in the whole system are rife with big undefined words. But, the plus is, as long as you’re around to catch them, it can serve as a platform for discussion on what they’re learning about – be it animals, the letter “C” or the Golden Gate Bridge.
- The Excellent “Search and Explore” Books: And that brings me to what has been the kids favorite part of the lessons thus far, the “Search and Explore” audio books – books that are animated read-throughs acted out by three mice (“ABC Mouse”, “123 Mouse” and “Do-Ra-Mi Mouse”) that discuss things in the world to go see, research them on the internet, and then use their magical powers of beaming themselves through anyone’s phone that happens to be nearby to explore directly. There are but three books that ABCMouse has completed in this wise so far – books that explore the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, and the Golden Gate Bridge. But, owing to the captivating way they’re told, my kids have been FASCINATED with the subject matter.So much, that massive spin-off discussions have taken place with the kids on things like maps – and where we can drive to on our way across the country, where San Francisco is, what other bridges are like and how they’re made, what a “canyon” is and the fact that we can explore little “canyons” that were dug away by rivers right by our own house, etc. They’ve been a powerful springboard for much more learning and interest that both kids have now shown in their world.Oh, and then there’s also this:
- Their “Pet Store” is MONEY. Literally:
Shortly after we started, ABCMouse rolled out a “Pet Store” feature, which basically allows children to take “tickets” that they earn by completing their various lessons, and use them to purchase pets (dogs, cats, turtles, even penguins and baby giraffes) from a lavish pet store, and then also use their tickets to buy food, toys & supplies for their pets.In addition to serving as amazingly effective motivation for the kids to complete their lessons, it’s been a big factor in getting the kids to recognize bigger & smaller 2 & 3-digit numbers, and to be able to answer questions like, “To get that penguin I need 200 tickets. I have 153. Does that mean I have enough?”
And of course, this starts the kids being able to talk about the quintessential parenting question of, “Can I get that toy I saw in the store?”
All told, I’m very happy with the progress the kids are making so far, and would heartily recommend it to anyone with 2-5 year old kids. For any of you out there who’ve tried this or other e-learning solutions, please do chime in with your thoughts!