Are You Ready to Jam?

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I have a fear of the unknown. That’s generally how it works, right? We don’t know something so we automatically either despise it, fear it, or feel indifferent towards it. I have those feelings about the outdoors. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that my parents didn’t take me camping, or that they refused me information about the great outdoors – I simply chose not to pay attention. But now I am curious. I’m curious about a lot of things. I’m scared to death of snakes, but I want to know more of their habits, tendencies, and traits. Same with sharks. Same with Komodo Dragons. I love dragons.

At any rate, a lot of my curiosity has been spiked by stories. Short stories like Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (there are all kinds of snakes in that short tale), and movies like Jaws (my fear/fascination with sharks started at an early age with a lot of misinformation). As a parent, I want to pass on this healthy curiosity to my children. I also want them to build up a solid bank of knowledge so that they don’t live in fear, or ignorance, and choose to rob themselves of the beauty of nature, and our world in general, because of “wise decisions” they make based off of tall tales, fear, or a superficial understanding of nature. The world is too big and fascinating to let yourself be hemmed in.

Several months ago, I met the good people of Animal Jam at a conference. They were showcasing an interactive video game called Animal Jam. However, in addition to the information about the game, they also had live animals. Within a few hours, this kid from the city held an alligator and a Burmese Python. The alligator took little convincing. The snake, however, which is the same snake that they used on the show American Horror Story, took an awful lot of persuasion for me to even THINK about holding it.

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Not gonna lie, as I held that thing, I was still quite afraid that it was going to squeeze me to death, or that it was gonna swallow me whole. Neither of which happened. But then another thing happened. I recognized how beautiful it was. And right then, I wanted my kids to have that feeling.

So how does Animal Jam tie in to all of this? Well, AJ takes the two things that I mentioned earlier – stories and background knowledge, and welds them together to give your child a fun, safe, and interactive experience. For a detailed look at what goes into creating a profile and becoming an Animal Jam “Jammer”, my friend Dave Taylor has a very detailed look and description of the process. And while you are there, you can enter his contest in addition to mine, but more on that later.

Animal Jam is a safe and exciting online playground for kids who love animals and the outdoors. Players create and customize their own animal characters and dens, chat with friends, adopt pets, team up for adventures, and feed their curiosity about animals and the natural world around them.

Created in partnership with National Geographic, Animal Jam features classic playground role playing infused with the life sciences. Players can collect fun facts in their journey books, learn about Animal Conservation in Kimbara Outback, and talk to real scientists, like herpetologist Dr. Brady Barr and marine biologist Tierney Thys.

All educational content is accessible to players for free, including Animal Jam Academy (http://academy.animaljam.com) – a premier online resource center where kids can download exciting activities to complete when they’re not online. Animal Jam memberships are available for players who want access to additional animals, accessories, dens, and den items. Membership details are located here: https://animaljam.com/membership

We also offer robust safety options which are constantly being optimized based on parent feedback. Parents can control their child’s chat settings, plus their ability to gift or trade items. Parents can also view their child’s discipline history and their login history. Animal Jam also regularly produces educational content for players and their parents about digital citizenship and online safety, ensuring our players are aware of how to be safe online.

Our goal is to inspire children to explore and protect the natural world outside their own doors, making science accessible and fun!

What did I like about Animal Jam? I set up two accounts – one for me to tool a round with, and one for my daughter to use. I like the fact that in this virtual world there is a bit of a story to set up your journey through the ever changing world of Jamaa. Players have an opportunity to first customize, name, and decorate their animal character. They can also customize their den, or living space, in the virtual world. There are also ample opportunities for players to play various games and challenges to earn currency to purchase items for their animals. The games can range from simple racing games to trivia games where players learn facts about animals and habitats – while competing against other Jammers.

I also like the fact that there are parental controls on Animal Jam that allow you to tailor the interactive experience for your child – though when they initially sign up they are permitted to immediately begin to interact. This afforded me the opportunity to not only enact specific limitations for my daughter, but also gave me an opening to talk to her about safe use on the web. As you sign up, one of the first things that you have to agree to are the rules for Animal Jam – and they are pretty simple. Essentially you are encouraged to explore and engage, but inappropriate language, and bullying, specifically, are discouraged in this virtual world. It is a good reminder that the behavior of the player not only affects his, or her, own experience, but may also have a positive or negative impact on those around them.

There is much more I enjoyed, but I’m going to try and keep this short and simple. There are two specific moments that stood out to me. The first is when my daughter played the quiz game (I cannot remember the name or its location), but her animal was huddled in what looked like a collegiate lecture room. Timed questions about animals would pop up and if she answered them correctly she earned jewels – which meant she could deck out her animal and den even more than she had already. Well, she was excited about the quiz, and she was curious about the answers. They were all multiple choice, and as a new reader, not only was she building background knowledge about science, but she was also attempting to read words and phrases above her grade level and outside of her normal conversational routine. We played the quiz game at least 5 times.

The other? After we toyed around with Animal Jam for about 30 minutes together, a friend of hers came over and they continued to play. The two of them huddled next to each other – laughng, exploring, and having fun. They played, giggled, and played for another 15-20 minutes before it was time to get ready for bed.

My one complaint? The Animal Jam experience is a little too big for mobile devices like phones or tablets. But really, I am okay with that.

I found Animal Jam to be a fun, safe, and educational escape for my daughter. I’m not saying that it will be the sole reason that she will be more informed, but it will certainly help her to be less ignorant about animals and nature than I was at her age. I can see how it reinforces, science, math, and communication. I also think it is a positive way for her to spend time online and learn the etiquette of being a good digital citizen.

Want to check it out? Animal Jam can be played for free, but as mentioned earlier, there is a premium section available as well. Thankfully, the good people at Animal Jam have afforded me the opportunity to give away a 12 month membership code and diamonds (the kind in the game not actual, real, tangible diamonds). My favorite animal, as mentioned above, is the Komodo Dragon. What’s yours? Leave a comment on this Facebook post telling me what your favorite animal is and one winner will be chosen at random. Contest ends June 30th at 11:59 pm.

Disclosure: I received a free code to give away, but was not compensated for this post. My thoughts and words are my own. Roar.

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