When schools across the nation shut down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I felt fortunate that the school my boys attended offered a robust online learning program with live classes daily. This gave my 7-year-old son, who was finishing up first grade, a lesson plan to follow during the day.
My 4-year-old son’s learning time was less structured, which was to be expected for a pre-K student. He was happy to see his teachers during virtual circle time each morning, but since I was also working from home, I didn’t have much time to guide him through the activity list the teachers emailed for additional enrichment. While I wasn’t worried – young children learn best through play – I wanted to feel he was getting some type of organized instruction as well that didn’t require my constant presence.
Enter ABCmouse.com, the online learning platform whose ubiquitous advertising made both boys ask repeatedly if we could try it out. I finally agreed, hoping the app’s suite of 850 lessons and more than 10,000 regularly updated learning activities would be a good way for both kids to learn and work independently. ABCmouse.com targets children 2-8, making me wonder if it would be too basic for my older son, who’d turn eight a month after I signed up for the program. I was more optimistic for my younger son, who turned five at the end of the summer, and hoped he’d be able to enjoy the program without much supervision from me.
Young kids can use it independently • Engaging across a variety of subjects
A good enrichment option for early-elementary kids.
ABCmouse.com offers a free one-month trial before reverting to $9.99 per month, or you can pay for longer subscriptions for a lower overall price per month.
My younger son took to it quickly. We created a character for him that matched his skin tone, hair and eye color and did the same for his teacher of choice. Users then select the child’s grade level to ensure appropriate instruction that aligns with the school curriculum. ABCmouse.com advertises that its curricula are designed by teachers and align with what kids would learn in school.
Once I logged into his account (you can create accounts for multiple children under your login), we started on the landing page. The lessons can be accessed through the Classroom, which leads children through a progressive map of learning activities. Other options include exploring a virtual zoo, farm, park or choosing a hamster (more on that later). My son was able to complete these steps without my help once I showed him how to maneuver the touchpad mouse on my laptop. When he left the program and returned at a different time, he could start at the spot where he left off.
We found the kindergarten-age activities engaging, from alphabet-themed stories and songs that only required listening (and sometimes singing and dancing) to games, puzzles and art completed by dragging the mouse to move pieces and place colors.
About the only activity that required my attention was an assessment test that took anywhere from 10-15 minutes. This was designed to determine whether the activities provided fit his actual learning level. While the children are supposed to do this test without parental supervision, my son often asked me for more clarification about what the directions meant. Once I explained what he was being asked to do, he was able to complete the activity. While I wondered if his need for more clarification meant he wasn’t ready for that skill, the fact that he was able to complete it after I explained the directions more – as an actual teacher would do in real life – gave me a better gauge on what he really understood. The test, honestly, was the only time he really needed my assistance to move forward on ABCmouse.com. It also helps that the questions were delivered verbally – a bonus for children not yet reading.
My older son began working on the second-grade suite of lessons, the highest grade offered by ABCmouse.com, and the one that matched his actual grade level this fall. He was entertained by some of the stories the narrator read aloud, which contained vocabulary and themes relevant to his age level. He also enjoyed some of the mouse-drag artwork, but quickly told me that certain lessons, such as one on identifying spheres and cylinders as shapes, were “too easy” for him. Age of Learning, the parent company for ABCmouse.com, offers Adventure Academy for elementary and middle-school students, and I thought that might soon be a better fit for him.
What he appreciated greatly was a factor I didn’t consider. He’s a brilliant, creative child who enjoys creating and telling stories, but handwriting is markedly difficult for him – and not in the typical sense that most young people struggle with it. He’s been receiving occupational therapy for four years to work on hand strength and handwriting issues and we still work on correcting reversed letters and numbers. Having the chance to type out what he’s thinking made answering questions much more pleasurable – as long as he could find the keys on the keyboard.
“Instead of writing, which hurts my hand, it’s easier for me to type my ideas,” he told me. “It’s hard to find the letters so it can take a longer time to type your answer in, but I get to memorize them the more I play ABCmouse.”
And he was a sucker for the tickets.
With each completed activity, children receive tickets that can be used to “purchase” online pets like hamsters and fish, along with supplies for said animals. Earning tickets became his motivation to plow through some of the lessons he didn’t like. I appreciated that he did the math in his head to figure out how many tickets he needed for another fishbowl or whatever – he might have learned more from that process than he did from the lessons themselves.
“I like ABCmouse because of all the cute hamsters and fish you can get,” he said. “I also like that you can get supplies for your pets and more backgrounds. There are many cool things that you can unlock if you do a certain number of activities and you get a little prize. I like all of the choices.”
Other pluses for him included a daily video with current events, life lessons, and songs to get moving. He enjoyed hearing the daily lesson, and I made sure to replay the part about responsibility a few times for good measure.
The verdict – ABCmouse.com delivered what it advertised and proved both entertaining and educational for both of my children. As I expected, it was a much better fit for my 5-year-old, and I wouldn’t have gotten it at all if I was just considering the needs of my almost-8-year-old. My older son is easygoing enough that he’ll try anything a few times, but he hasn’t asked about it since the trial period ended – even though he’ll peek over his younger brother’s shoulder when he’s playing and then ask to buy something for his fish. My youngest son loves it and frequently asks to play. He stays interested for about an hour and can work independently.
Now that the boys are back to school in person, we haven’t used ABCmouse.com as much. My second grader has 20 minutes of reading to do each night during the week – which we usually do as a family activity – and occasionally completes a few math problems or sentences he didn’t finish at school. My pre-K son prefers to use his time after school to build Legos or draw. With the days growing shorter, colder and more rainy, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start using ABCmouse.com more on the weekends during late fall and winter. While I think some parents could find the program helpful to supplement in-school instruction, for us, I see this mostly as a non-school activity.
ABCmouse is worth trying if you’re looking for a self-guided, independent learning activity for your young children to enjoy.