Website review by Ericka D, Common Sense Education | Updated March 2020

Zoo Academy

Uncage compassion and learn social-emotional awareness with a cast of cute zoo animals

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Editorial review by Common Sense Education
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Grades
K–1 This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Subjects & Skills
Communication & Collaboration, Character & SEL
Great for
SEL

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Pros: Engaging, relevant content for the youngest of school-age learners.

Cons: Some activities feel disconnected from the overall purpose of the tool.

Bottom Line: Interactive program with practice activities teaches SEL to young students.

Teachers can use Zoo Academy as a whole-group instruction tool as well as an individualized learning option. If counselors, aides, or teachers are doing small-group social skills instruction, they can have kids do some activities and use the supplemental resources. It could also work well as a transition after big activities like recess or assemblies in a scaffolded way.

The biggest challenge with SEL -- and with screen-based activities for little kids in general -- is transferring what they've learned to off-screen. To help them apply the skills, teachers could ask students to model what they learned. Students could act out scenarios, and the whole group can discuss the choices that the student made, much like the program. It will also help to weave examples from Zoo Academy into the day as challenges emerge to help kids make connections.

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Zoo Academy is a web-based program best suited for kindergarten to first grade students learning essential social-emotional skills. The program contains 10 scenes, which equates to approximately two hours of game time. The first step for each student is to create a custom avatar to represent their character in the game. Once introduced to the principal, players learn that they must help other characters demonstrate appropriate social-emotional skills like emotion identification, emotion regulation, and social awareness.

The program offers three choices, which often have a visual component, and the prompt is read aloud to emphasize tone of voice. Players must choose the best answer. Students will help characters like an owl learn to respect others' personal space, and a baby gorilla to make new friends. While teaching the animals, students learn and practice these skills in real time. After the first six lessons, the teacher has an educator dashboard and will be able to monitor student progress while gaining insight into the skills players are mastering. Teachers obtain a proficiency report on the following skills: impulse control, emotion regulation, empathy, communication, cooperation, and social initiation.

Zoo Academy does a great job at emphasizing the foundational social-emotional learning skills like impulse control, emotion regulation, empathy, communication, cooperation, and social initiation. These concepts align well with nationally recognized standards for social-emotional learning. The content also feels age-appropriate. It's challenging without being too overwhelming or technical, and even young players will be able to navigate it. Featuring scenarios that students will recognize from their own classrooms will help them identify with the lessons, and having students "teach" the characters makes them an authority with agency.

Also, the developer has a robust community of partners and supplementary aids and lessons, with more on the way. When considering areas of improvement, it would be nice to have more options in the avatar to represent more inclusive character choices, such as students who use amplification devices or wheelchairs for mobility. Finally, there are some activities that could use some more development. When the breathing exercises appear, it would be helpful to have a more visually engaging image for students to focus on, and some of the activities (e.g., art collage) could better tie into the concept being taught. Other than those minor drawbacks, it's a great tool for helping young students practice their social skills. 

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

Zoo Academy will reel young kids in with the vibrant visuals and the addition of animal classmates. Kids will enjoy creating their avatar and hearing the narrator speak in a voice similar to theirs.

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

The scenarios in Zoo Academy address social-emotional instruction in emotion identification, regulation, and social awareness by presenting kids with choices that could occur off-screen.

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

Students will do best getting help from teachers. Though the game builds in hints and visual cues for assistance, kids may still require teacher assistance.


Common Sense reviewer
Ericka D Counselor, psychologist, or social worker

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