Charlie and Jack love learning about things. The subject really doesn’t matter. Whether it’s looking in awe at what’s under the hood of a race car or learning how to read, they sure love taking it in. And just how much they retain is beyond impressive.
All kids have this natural desire to discover and learn, but our children are growing up in a world where they are inundated by entertainment to the point where the amusement is valued above everything else. Too many products are marketed to our children as educational when, in fact, the focus is entertainment. We have tried many educational videos, toys, and games, but computer programs take the cake. The child takes ownership of the process (instead of staring at a TV screen) and learns valuable computer skills in the process.
ABCmouse.com is one of the more popular online learning environments. The website is easy to set up, and 3 1/2 year old Charlie learned how to use the site in a grand total of 5 minutes. The hallmark of the site is the learning path. The site has developed “paths” separated by development levels that introduce progressively more advanced topics to your child. Parents can log in and track individual children’s progress. The issue Charlie has, though, is that the most advanced level covers topics he already knows. The educational philosophy appears to prepare children to the point of knowing the what an average kindergartener should know. I find this to be disappointingly common. Although kids are able to learn more than simple shapes, colors and letters, the available formats for learning these concepts are put up for older kids, and as a result less captivating to younger learners. Contrast this to, say, starfall.com, where addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, 3D shapes, etc. are presented, and you see the missed opportunity.
Needless to say, when Charlie gets bored of his learning path he explores other areas of the website. One of ABCmouse’s incentives for children to learn is the ticket system, where the child earns tickets for completing tasks. This has devolved in my house into taking way too much time trying to buy useless things for his avatar’s room, the class fish tank, and the class hamster cage. There is some value to learning how to earn currency and making decisions to purchase things, but this has become Charlie’s sole focus on the website. Absent the constant monitoring of a parent, there is little learning being done. If your goal is education and it takes constant monitoring to ensure your child is actually learning something, you probably achieve better results for younger kids (ages 2 – 4) by reading books, counting toys, etc. The dilemma is that kids 4 and older, who are better suited for independent computer learning, may grow bored of the slow learning pace and the subject matter.
The website does offer some basic learning tools, particularly for the children in your family who have not yet reached the educational milestones offered by ABCmouse. I also think it is no coincidence that Jack’s first longer phrase (at 18 months old) was “mou dah com.” With parental guidance, the website can occasionally be a helpful tool to aid in the learning process, but certainly not as a primary substitute.
Overall, your kids may become addicted to ABCmouse.com. There are much worse things for them to be so enthusiastic for, but the educational promises look to over promise and under deliver.