You’d think that, as a writer, I’d have no problem teaching my kids to write. However, I’ve found that often the things we find the easiest (or are naturally gifted at) are the things that are hardest to teach to someone else. I have one daughter who loves to write and three others who are, um, less motivated to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). So when I saw Night Zookeeper, I was curious about how their online writing program would help both my reluctant writers and my avid writer.
Night Zookeeper is a fun, safe online writing community for kids. They offer exciting and engaging games to increase children’s vocabulary and improve spelling, puzzles and challenges to increase grammar skills, and interesting writing prompts to get kids putting it all together and creating their own stories. Kids draw magical or mythical animal to travel through the Zoo with. As they explore the Zoo, they encounter different challenges, puzzles and games that help teach them various writing skills. They get instant feedback on their writing, which helps them improve and keep going.
My Girls Try Night Zookeeper
Lily (almost 12) seemed a little bit wary about Night Zookeeper when I mentioned I’d signed her up for another online learning program. Yes, we’ve tried a few different apps and educational websites over the last few years of homeschooling. Some have been very popular with my kids and others not so much, but I really thought she’d like this one. She logged in and began exploring, and soon I noticed her writing a story in the Zoo:
Jade (turning 9 this month) and Pearl (age 6) were much more excited to try the Night Zookeeper. In fact, I now have to manage how much time each of them spends in the Zoo because they each enjoy it so much. It’s been a great way to motivate them to do their schoolwork; Jade flew through her books, music practice, and chores on Friday so that she could start playing Night Zookeeper by noon.
Night Zookeeper opens with an engaging video story that sets the stage for the entire platform. It draws children into this world, where they then begin to interact with the games and characters. There’s a classic good vs. evil battle, where they must earn orbs which allow them to fight against the evil trying to overtake the zoo. First, they draw their avatar for the Zoo. Then they can navigate the Zoo map, choosing what activities to do, such as lessons, writing prompts, challenges, or games.
I’ve tried not to peer over their shoulders too much as they are playing, as I know from my own experience that sometimes we aren’t ready to share what we’re writing until we’re ready to share. It’s been fun to see Pearl pecking away at the keyboard, and occasionally asking me how to spell something. The child who frequently balks at writing out her spelling list words is now writing short stories about mythical koala-chickens:
As Pearl worked on one story, the Zookeeper gave her feedback on the story and asked questions to clarify or encourage her to continue. For example, she didn’t start her sentence with a capital letter or end it with a period, so the Zookeeper reminded her to do this. I had to show her how to make a capital letter with the keyboard! (Maybe we need to work on typing skills next!)
A few sentences later, the Zookeeper suggested that she added more description to one sentence, and then asked what happened next. It was neat to see how this interactive feature really helped her keep working on her story, instead of getting stuck with “I don’t know what to write next.” Writing well is an important skill for kids to have, yet we can’t force them to learn this skill. Night Zookeeper makes kids want to write with gentle prompts, instant feedback, and by setting up a fun storyworld for kids to add to through their own stories and make-believe animals.
Night Zookeeper is an engaging, game-ified online writing program that absolutely blew my mind. The artwork, the story, the teaching methodology, it’s all so engaging for them. This is key in wanting your children to learn, engaging them. ~ Forgetful Momma
The Parents’ Dashboard
As a parent, I can login to my own dashboard to see what the girls have been working on or learning in their Night Zookeeper adventures. Here, I can see what Curriculum Challenges Jade has done, read some of her writing, browse her drawings, and see if she’s done any reading yet. So far, for example, Jade and Lily have each done one Curriculum Challenge while Pearl has done two.
Lily and Jade have written a letter to each other. Jade was apparently watching her word count, as she wrote, “do you think I can make this letter 100 words long? I think I’m gonna stop righting now. 100 words are to much.” I had to laugh, knowing the feeling (sometimes) of trying to reach a word count when I don’t have much to say on a specific topic. Setting goals like that in writing is a good start, though.
None of them have done any reading yet. Now that I’ve checked out what they’ve done, I can encourage them to try parts of the Zoo they haven’t yet explored. This also gives me a way to share their work with our homeschool teacher.
While writing is the primary focus of Night Zookeeper, kids are also encouraged to explore their creativity artistically. Jade has spent the most time creating her own animals so far. There are stencils to create outlines for the animals, to help kids get started, and then they can change or colour their animals as they want. Creativity is encouraged here as they can mix and match animals parts to create their own unique creature.
Try Night Zookeeper Yourself!
Night Zookeeper is intended for children ages 6 to 12 and I can say for a fact that each of my three girls within this age range have enjoyed it. The platform is easy enough that Pearl (age 6) has been able to navigate it herself, with minimal help from me or an older sister. Each of my girls have enjoyed playing the games and created various pieces of written work, even the girls whom I’d say don’t usually enjoy writing.
As The Unexpected Homeschooler says, “This program is so good; they won’t even know they’re learning!”
So far, we’ve used Night Zookeeper on our computer. As I want to encourage my girls’ typing skills while they are writing, this seems easiest for them. If you have a child who finds a tablet easier to work on, or you want to take Night Zookeeper on the go, then it’s also supposed to work there.
Occasionally, we’ve found that the platform has so much going on that it’s slow to load (and we have fairly fast internet here, because I have zero patience in waiting for computers). I’ve told my girls to turn off the music to help the pages load faster, and to just be patient when the computer is thinking.
You can sign up for a free 7-day trial to see whether your kids enjoy writing, creating, and playing the various games. Night Zookeeper offers family plans with monthly or annual rates. Check out the Night Zookeeper shop for print resources like books, activity packs and charts to support your child’s online learning.
Do you have an avid or reluctant writer in your family? Do you think they’d enjoy Night Zookeeper as my daughters do?