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Monday, April 4, 2011

Kabongo, a review

kabongo homeKabongo is an online program for little ones (pre-reading to beginning reading, ages 4-7) designed to give some some practice in reading readiness and basic phonics. The Kabongo community consists “habitats” (the first one is available for free) that can be purchased, each containing 3 different games featuring truly out-of-this-world animated alien-type creatures.

For a look at the skill set Kabongo is meant to cover, check here.

When you first enter Kabongo, you’ll find yourself in the treehouse where you can choose to change your avatar,

kabongo avatar maker

Avatar Maker

try the skate park, visit the map, or click on another little doodad.

kabongo map

Kabongo Map

You can access the different habitats from the map. Each of the habitats has a unique host character and contains 3 different games. Most of the games involve skills like matching shapes, finding a letter that makes a particular sound, navigating a mazes, etc. Most will require fairly good hand-eye coordination (you need to guide a moving character, for example, to drive over the correct letter).

Here are the habitats:

  • Laughter Lake
  • kabongo laughter lake

    • Scuba Dude-collecting the correct objects in the correct order
    • Critter Sizer-differentiating between big and small
    • Going Buggy-following cues in a story to complete a picture
  • Galaxy Gardens
    • Photo Safari- locating objects asked for by the animals

kabongo photo safari

    • Robo Bobo- fitting shapes on the conveyor belt into the picture

kabongo robo bobo

    • Rocket Racer- racing over the correct letter sound with visual cue

  • Twister Top
    • Crazy Maze-guiding letters through a maze without hitting an obstacle
    • Desert Dash-racing over the correct letter sound without a visual cue

kabongo desert dash

    • Design-a-Door-a memory game

Basically a mix of the type of games you would expect to see for this age group. Go here for more info on each of the habitats in Kabongo.

What did we think?

I’ll note here that this is a beta program, and we did run into a few glitches. Nothing major, just little annoyances, like blank screens, rewards not loading, the flash freezing up. In all cases, closing it and coming back fixed the problem. I would expect that these are just kinks being worked out.

I had Peter (age 5), a beginning reader, try out Kabongo. At first he seemed to like it well enough, though nobody in our family particularly liked the graphics. Even my 11-year-old thought they were a little creepy (some are worse than others). I’ve tried to give you a nice mix of screenshots so you can judge for yourself, since this is a highly subjective aspect of any program.

First, let me say that the habitats in Kabongo are not of the type that you have with online multi-player games. These are not worlds to explore. Each habitat is just a flash screen with 3 games to access, so there’s no chance of interaction between your child and other children on-line at the same time. That can be positive or negative, depending on how you look at it. I think it’s just fine for little ones.

Game play was ok. All of the games rely on mouse control (no typing). The games that require navigating a maze or picking up letter by driving over them were a bit difficult for Peter. That surprised me, because he’s got pretty good mouse control, so I tried it myself. I found that it did take a fair amount of care and concentration to avoid the obstacles. A child who’s easily distracted or has a difficult time with a mouse (small hands and all) might find these challenging.

A couple random observations on playability:

For some of the pictures in Robo Bobo, it was not always clear which spaces needed to be filled in (some of the white areas are meant to stay white and occasionally the pieces that do need to be filled in are similar in shape).

In desert dash, since there is no visual cue, you have to judge what sound is being given to find it (they do not state the letter name). If you happen to miss hearing it, easy in a noisy household, you’ll have to wait until they give it again (it’s a long wait) as there’s no way to ask for it to be repeated. And a couple of the vowel sounds are not easy to distinguish from each other (once you’ve heard one, you can tell it from the other, but when I first heard /e/ it sounded like /i/, for instance).

Peter lost interest in Kabongo within about a week. And, overall, I didn’t see much to set this apart from other computer games we have tried, but as the first habitat can be played for free, it’s worth a look.

I do like that Kabongo is not subscription-based, once you purchase a habitat, you have permanent access to it. But, if you want to use it with multiple children, you need to purchase each habitat for each child.

Pricing for Kabongo:

Laughter Lake- FREE (get a 2nd habitat free for a limited time)

Twister Top- $4.95/child

Galaxy Gardens- $4.95/child

As this program is still in beta development, it’s possible they will add more worlds later.

To read other reviews of this product by other homeschoolers, please visit the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog.

Disclosure: I received free access to Kabongo for review purposes. I received no compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own and I was in no way required to write a positive review. My thoughts cannot be “pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered.” They are my own.

Credit: The quote in my disclosure comes from the 1960’s TV series The Prisoner.

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