- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

Kango’s Tales 4 Tomorrow interactive universe provides children an easy way to learn about animal conservation through a plush creature and online refuge.

Partnering with Conservation International (the group receives 5 percent of all proceeds), Kango combines eco-friendly toys, trading cards and an interactive Web site to enhance children’s awareness of endangered animals and ecology.

A child’s adventure begins by owning one of the ultrasoft - thanks to surface materials created from soy and cotton - play pals ($19.95 each) that represent eight endangered species.

With friendly faces, huggable bodies and bright colors, each also has an ear tag envelope that holds an informational and donation code.

Take Bonza the koala bear and Tawa the orangutan. Their soulful eyes and playful expressions make them instant friends for a 7-year-old.

We learn from the cards that Bonza comes from Eastern Australia where he lives high up in the eucalyptus tree. His conservation status is “near threatened.” Tawa hails from Sumatra, Indonesia. He is playful and can make tools from branches and rocks. Tawa’s species is “critically endangered.”

Going from the real world to the virtual via the Tales 4 Tomorrow Web site (www.tales4tomorrow.com) takes a bit of doing and an adult should be there to help children register using the donation code.

During the process, children can choose for their donation to go to one of four animal conservation programs - Pro-Panda Players, Team 4 Tigers, Independence in India and Freedom 4 Frogs. To help with the decision, a Learn More option opens a window with a brief overview, provided by Conservation International, that highlights what each program is doing to help.

Children are welcomed to their home page and can visit their plush pal’s habitat to play games, watch videos and find fun facts. Bonza, for example, comes from the Fantastic Forest. When entering this environment, the user is met with a cartoonlike green forest with the sound of birds chirping and Bonza waiting to help.

Navigational bars open a map of the area and drag and drop “stuff” earned by completing tasks and challenges. The habitat is limited when first entering, but playing any or all of the nine games offered earns “habitokens” that can be used to purchase more spaces or items for the play pal.

Games are fun but most will require a fairly fast Internet connection to enjoy. I found the cute little giraffe that plays four in a row rather difficult to beat.

The games skew for older children to play alone and will make great lap games for a parent to play with little ones. Animal Sounds, with its sound patterns to listen to and repeat, is a game that would be fun to play with a smaller child.

There are plenty of places to enjoy on this robust site. Animal Videos provides short informational clips showing creatures in their native environment while Character Stories provides an almost humanized bio on the animals.

Another great place to visit is the Animal Fun Facts, which offers the animal’s scientific name and other info nuggets.

While Kango and Conservation International are not unique in creating a child-centric Web site to teach conservancy, what they offer is already deep with plenty of room to grow, offering new games and resources for users.

The site also offers wallpaper downloads and an “e-mail” section where children can send messages to friends when they know their user name. The only thing missing is a direct “call to action” where children can learn what they can do, depending on their age, to encourage animal conservation and knowledge.

* Joseph Szadkowski’s ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to jszadkowski @washingtontimes.com.

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