Alpha Zoo is a parent and child app that is designed to help young children learn how to spell some animal names, food types and some toys too. It is a gentle and short experience and every time you open it a new zoo is there for you to walk around. It’s just a shame that the actual educational element doesn’t seem to click.
I took Alpha Zoo to a small selection of kids between the ages of 3 and 6 – usually playing it with parents. You can move around the zoo with the arrow buttons on the keyboard and walk up to enclosures. At this point the animals name appears and it can be typed in. Get it right and the enclosure colours in and you can feed the animal by typing feed. You can make them poo too. Most zoos seem to have about 20 – 25 animals. Alongside this there is a gift shop with items to buy and a cafe with food. Again, type the name and get the thing is the name of the game. It’s a nice idea and it looks inviting, however the kids I tried it out on got frustrated.
Spelling mistakes don’t allow a delete button to work. This means when you get it wrong, you have to walk away from the enclosure and come back – its clunky. There’s no letter spelling or positive reinforcement and unlike many other language learning apps, no way to redo things over and over to get something into your brain. Yes, you can exit the app and get a new zoo but you might not get the same animals and certainly not in a structured way that feels like you are progressing with a language. Most of the time, the first animals you come across are some of the longest names in the game. Indeed, there’s a clear lack of structure in total. The children not so far along their spelling and English journey really struggled with getting things right and needed easy animals upfront first. Instead, they just made them poo and switched off.
Playing over several days, very few animal spellings were learnt by any of the children, and any that were learnt came from parent/child combo teaching where the parent did most of the heavy lifting. This oddly didn’t transfer over to the food words. Here, most children didn’t engage with a menu of words and little pictorial support. If anywhere voice work for letters and words were needed – this was it. So little was learnt, there is no structure to learning and its progression nor the ability to feel like you are really engaged in the experience.
It’s on that basis I give the score I do. This feels like a great concept that is designed back to front in a way that is skipping the structure that is required to learn, confirm and embed. Updates are regular – trains have been added to choo choo around the map for example – but the fundamental learning journey is flawed as it is. I’d like to see how this project could develop with a wider testing pool but as it is now, I can’t recommend it.
Review copy provided by developer.
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