What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that BrainNook is a virtual world wherein kids play math- and language-themed games. Kids and alien creatures mingle on the site, where they'll play a series of games and earn stars for their efforts, which they can then use to purchase virtual collectibles or missing parts for their spaceship. The games within BrainNook can be played at a few levels; some test simple concepts such as adding single-digit numbers or matching objects with words, while others test more challenging concepts like spatial visualization, fractions, homophones, and syllables. Kids provide some personal information (age and gender) when they sign up and are continually asked also to provide a parent’s email address so they can send progress reports. Kids can play for free, but a premium membership unlocks more worlds and games as well as other expanded benefits.
What's it about?
Kids choose an alien avatar and navigate through Earth in search of parts to repair a broken spaceship. Kids earn stars to buy these parts (and other goodies) by playing math and language games. They'll wander around a beachy environment, leading their avatar to destinations like an ice cream stand or a sandcastle, each of which contains a short game to play. Games are timed and relatively brief, and points are awarded when time is up. For example, in Don't Spare a Blank, you'll drag the appropriate word into the blank spot in a sentence. Completing games also allows kids to progress to upper levels, which unlocks more worlds and more games. Kids also can chat with other kids in the worlds using preset phrases or make and print pictures. When kids complete levels, they can email a progress report to their parents.
Is it any good?
BRAINNOOK is a creative website that allows kids to have fun and do a little learning while safely exploring a cute virtual world. It’s nice that kids can send progress reports to their parents (if they provide an email address), though the reports don't contain a ton of information.
However, with its repetitive game design and confusing level system, it's hard to guarantee meaningful learning within BrainNook's universe. Play is against the clock, which allows kids little time for reflection. Plus, game design (and music) is much the same for different games; it lacks the inventiveness and creativity needed to keep kids engaged over time. Game topics may be appropriate (dividing decimals, matching synonyms), but the approach is often off-base. A game might go a little something like this: "Quick: Divide 367.87 by 5.4 in your head. Then, draw a line from the equation to the right answer without getting eaten by a floating bug and before the answer choices disappear." Ack! The stressful game environments may freak kids out unnecessarily; more time could help cement concepts. Games can increase in difficulty in a single session, but those available to play seem uneven and not based on age of player or level reached. For example, Level 1 of a game may last a full minute whereas Level 2 cuts short at 20 seconds without explanation.
Families can talk about...
Discuss the difference between real-world interaction with people and interaction with virtual friends.
Talk to your kids about setting screen-time limits. Why would too much time online be a bad thing?