A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this website.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that ZulaWorld is a safe and secure site for grade schoolers based on an award-winning PBS cartoon that teaches science, math, and astronomy. Kids need parents' emailed permission to join and cannot share personal information with others, only made-up "alien" names. Parents can monitor kids' progress via a control panel and receive weekly email reports of accomplishments. Kids have the option of enjoying most of ZulaWorld for free or paying $5.99 a month, $29.99 for six months or $49.99 a year, per member, for full access.
What's it about?
Aimed at kids ages 6 to 11, ZULAWORLD is based on the gorgeously rendered Saturday morning CG cartoon The Zula Patrol and its cast of smart alien heroes: Bula, Zeeter, Multo the scientist, and Gorga the space dog. At ZulaWorld, kids can design their own alien avatars and spaceships and earn rewards by playing games and completing missions as they wander the city of Zulapolis and blast off to other planets. The more Zlinkles -- ZulaWorld currency -- earned, the more clothes, pets, music, spaceship equipment, and land avatars can buy.
Is it any good?
ZulaWorld successfully blends teaching with virtual adventures to help kids learn basic math, science, and astronomy principles. It's a big site but has an excellent map and voice-enabled navigation bar. Kids can spend hours exploring ZulaWorld without paying a dime; even the site's best game, an addictive Space Invaders knockoff called Meteor Blast, is free. But to complete all the missions, equip spaceships, and fully interact with other avatars requires a monthly subscription fee. ZulaWorld is worth the price of admission despite needing some tweaks. It needs a better FAQ and more hover popups so new users don't have to guess before clicking. The interactive dictionary should be accessible at all times so kids can look up words whenever they want, not just when they've completed a task. ZulaWorld was out of beta but some parts were still under construction when I visited in June 2009. Overall, though, it gets a big thumbs up for great educational content wrapped in a fun virtual world.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the lessons in math and science ZulaWorld teaches and how they apply to everyday life. (Gravity, for instance.) Parents are encouraged to join ZulaWorld themselves and guide and participate in their child’s adventures, a nice idea if the family can afford another subscription.