There are few brands I respect more than National Geographic, having grown up on the monthly magazine that has always been home to the most amazing photography and captivating articles and nature, animals and the world around us. The world has gone digital, however, and a print publication, however prestigious, seems a bit old school. NatGeo has kept up, however, with an extensive online presence, including the astonishingly popular Animal Jam virtual world aimed at children and tweens as a safe and educational alternative to all the pointless sites that abound online.
To learn more about Animal Jam, we set up an account and poked around a bit. And I really like what I found.
Let me take you through a few of the steps so you can see the appealing, cartoonish graphics that characterize the world and learn about the smart ways they integrated online safety for children into the interaction and parental controls dashboard.
To start, during setup children get to pick a starting animal — we picked a wolf — then get to create a name for it based on cute-word-roulette:
You’ll see what name we settled on for our wolf in a bit. 🙂
Users are then required to enter a parent’s email address:
Later you’ll see that I received confirmation email for the account, but surprisingly, the system lets you jump right in and proceed whether or not the parental address confirms. Which explains why every month I get a half-dozen requests for parental confirmation from sites and accounts that have nothing to do with my children. Even more bizarre, there are already two previous animals associated with my parental email address, even though my children have never been on the site.
Once signed up, the new animal goes through an interactive tutorial to learn the basics about collecting jewels, your notebook, chat capabilities, etc, then it’s time to explore!
As you can see, the world of Animal Jam is broken down into 12 areas (in this case Sarepia Forest is being highlighted)
Because the game is themed around animals, each area represents a different climate with different plants and animals. Each is also full of great photos and movies, of course, along with other players with whom your children can interact. A lot of other players. In fact, there are over 6 million registered Animal Jam accounts. That’s a big jungle!
The four basic tasks that players will do on a visit to Animal Jam are:
Games and adventures are much of what children do, but my kids play a number of these “sim” games and they get a lot of enjoyment out of tricking out their own space (or “den”, in this case).
I’m a parent, however, so I’m interested in the educational component. I clicked on “Watch animal videos” and an interesting video popped up about dolphins:
It’s footage from a show on National Geographic TV called Wild Detectives, but that’s just smart reuse. The video’s just about five minutes long, so even little attention spans can be captivated by this content.
In one of the exploration areas, we found a game about tropical birds, and when each was found, a little window popped up with information about that particular creature:
A stunning photo and tiny snippet of interesting information, and a way to “bookmark” the creature for further study or sharing with friends. Neat.
Finally, while all of this was going on, an email had been sent to my inbox:
(slightly tweaked to mask my daughter’s account name)
I think this is a critical component for any site aimed at children, and I applaud National Geographic and the Animal Jam team for ensuring that it’s all set up properly (though I’m still curious how two accounts not associated with my children are nonetheless associated with my email address).
Here, you can see, because here’s what a parental dashboard looks like:
Goldenwolf 660 and 700? No clue who that is. If I really cared, I could reset the player’s password, but the entire world of Animal Jam is so benign that I don’t see it as a problem anyway. And notice that the parental dashboard offers a lot of smart controls to help your child have fun while being safe in an environment that just might be a bit more sophisticated than they realize.
Overall, my daughter and I really like Animal Jam and are excited to explore it further. And National Geographic? The nice folk on the NatGeo team have sent us a promo code for a free “club” membership (normally a few bucks/month).
Contest runs until June 30, 2014 at midnight MST. Void where prohibited, etc etc.