Squiggle Park is an online game built to help children master foundational reading skills. Through games set in a series of different worlds, players must help a community of monsters recover and read lost magic scrolls that have been scrambled. The game can be used on an individual basis for $60 a year, but is primarily intended for classroom use and provides teachers with real time individual data on students. A classroom license is $99 per year.
Squiggle Park is all about building foundational skills without the fluff, which I appreciate. Sometimes in an attempt to gamify learning, a program can become so complicated that more time is spent learning the game than learning the concepts it attempts to teach. Squiggle Park, though, takes a clear and simple approach to gamification that places learning foundational skills at the forefront. While most activities are iterations of basic matching games, the learning objective is always clear and focused.
The pedagogical strategies employed by this game make it a resource educators can trust. As a platform that prides itself on being made by teachers for teachers, it comes complete with a content key that educators can consult to see how the game supports the development of different skills at different stages. Over the course of 25 worlds, students progress from letter identification to learning more complex vocabulary and phonics concepts. Learning objectives for each world are clearly communicated.
Additionally, the game takes an effective personalized learning approach. Students who breeze through new concepts get to skip over some activities so they’re not bored or held back, while students who are struggling are given more opportunities to practice. No matter their skill level, students are not allowed to progress forward in the game until they demonstrate high enough success rates, creating greater assurance that they are legitimately learning concepts as they go.
While Squiggle Park doesn’t have any unnecessary embellishments, I fear its singular focus on learning highlights a missed opportunity. What I expected to drive engagement and motivation was the storyline Squiggle Park is based upon, but very little of the plot explained in the teacher resources and on the website is built into the game itself. Characters are never formally introduced, the challenge faced by the characters is never explained, and there’s no update on the progress of the plot. Reaching the end of a level is anticlimactic; the player simply continues on to the next level without celebration or learning the impact of their actions on the storyline. Better integrating the story into the game would make it more motivating and fulfill the expectations set by the website.
I also found Squiggle Bits, the points players earn for correct answers, rather strange. Squiggle Bits can be exchanged for various items in the virtual Squiggle Shop, which can then be exchanged for extra chances to answer questions correctly. While I understand exchanging points for more chances at success, choosing items (such as blueberries, pancakes, and a basket) seems like an arbitrary and unnecessary middle step. It’s fun to choose from the store, but it would be nice if there was greater significance embedded in the items.
Squiggle Park provides a quality learning experience for young students, and its sound pedagogy ensures teachers that it is worth their time to utilize. However, I think for Squiggle Park to be an even more effective platform, it could leverage the plot more effectively and consistently to better compete with flashier literacy learning games.