video games

Miami educational website TurtleDiary builds worldwide following

 

campel@miamiherald.com

Mamie Joeveer’s 7-year-old twins are out of school for the summer — but they’re asking for more math problems.

The kids are hooked on TurtleDiary, a Miami-based educational website with activities for toddlers through fourth-graders. In two years, the site has attracted 150,000 users in 160 countries.

“It’s not just video gaming every single day,” Joeveer said. “They’re really learning concepts. My daughter will leave the computer and go and get a piece of scratch paper, pen and pencil to work out problems.”

TurtleDiary launched in 2012 when a Miami couple needed more educational games for their two kids, now 9 and 6. Neetu Saini and Permender Singh saw websites for math, websites for reading, websites for first-graders — but never the whole panoply of subject areas and grade levels.

The pair dreamed up a site that included everything from phonics lessons to multiplication drills, science experiments to arts and crafts. They wanted animated games to keep kids engaged, but also printable worksheets and activities to give them a break from the computer.

With a $100,000 investment and consultations with teachers and child psychiatrists, TurtleDiary was off to the races.

The website owes its growth to its focus on games, which get more challenging when children do well, Singh said.

“When they can learn it as part of a fun thing, they learn more and they learn fast,” he said. “They don’t even know that they’re learning.”

TurtleDiary is sustained by advertising, which is kid-friendly, the founders said. Parents and schools can block ads for $10 a month.

That revenue has allowed the website to grow: Fourth-grade content debuted in May, and the founders are adding collaborative features such as an online book club for students around the world.

Local teacher Kelly Jaimez said the website was a “very good tool for review” in her kindergarten class at Miami Shores Community Church School.

“Kids that didn’t get it instructionally, they’d get it in the game,” she said.

Teachers and parents can track children’s progress on TurtleDiary activities — which games are they playing, and which topics are giving them trouble?

“If I see on the report that this is a type of question that boggles them, I can print out the worksheet,” Joeveer said.

Singh and Saini hope to add content for fifth- and sixth-graders soon. The goal is for kids to use TurtleDiary the way Aesop’s tortoise would — to track their slow, steady progress in a satisfying way.

“It’s always exciting for them,” Joeveer said. “There’s something different to do every day. As a parent, I like to see that they’re actually learning something from using the computer.”

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