Fine variety in games designed to make learning fun From Mickey to Carmen, a selection of software for guilt-ridden parents.

Personal computers

December 02, 1991|By Michael J. Himowitz | Michael J. Himowitz,Evening Sun Staff

With the holidays approaching, millions of parents are looking at their home computers and feeling the pangs of BGT (the Big Guilt Trip).

Maybe the kids shouldn't be spending all their computer time blasting aliens or battling monsters. When we bought the computer, didn't we say it would help the kids with their schoolwork?

So it's time to look at educational software. Last time out, I wrote about tools designed to help kids with their schoolwork. Today we'll look at games designed to make education fun.

For preschoolers, Walt Disney Software has a variety of colorful, inexpensive programs featuring Mickey, Minnie, Donald Duck, Goofy and the rest of the gang.

Mickey's 123's, Mickey's ABC's, Mickey's Colors and Shapes and Donald's Alphabet Chase teach basic visual discrimination, counting and alphabet skills by giving kids a chance to control the characters using the keyboard. The graphics and animation are clever, but don't overwhelm the content. For IBM-compatibles.

Math and Me and Reading and Me from Davidson and Associates are two old favorites available for both IBM and Apple II series computers. They use animals, clowns and monkeys to teach youngsters shapes, pattern recognition, numbers, letters and simple sentences.

For sheer creativity, it's hard to beat The Playroom, from Broderbund Software. This delightful exploration program is just what the title suggests, a playroom full of objects that turn into magic activities when you touch them.

There are games to teach counting, simple addition and subtraction, letter recognition, telling time, spelling, strategy and logic, all under the direction of Peeper, a toy mouse who pokes his head through the window and shows up to help things along. For IBM, Apple II and Macintosh computers.

Older youngsters (ages 6 to 10) may link Broderbund's sequel to The Playroom, called The Treehouse. It uses the same poke-around-and-explore metaphor to teach language skills, music, science and math under the tutelage of friendly Awesome Possums. I was particularly impressed by the music games. For IBM compatibles only.

For young readers, Reader Rabbit (3 to 6), from The Learning Company, has been a longtime best seller, with an animated word factory that teaches basic reading, spelling and vocabulary skills. For IBM and Apple II compatibles. Slightly older youngsters (5 to 8) who loved the first version can keep up with Reader Rabbit 2, whose title character takes them on a tour of Wordville's crystal word mine, vowel pond, match patch and alphabet dance. For IBM compatibles only.

The longtime champ in math software has been Davidson's Math Blaster, and for good reason. The latest version, called Math Blaster Plus, combines graphics, animations and a couple of nifty arcade games to teach addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions, decimals and problem-solving skills.

There are six levels of difficulty, and parents and teachers can make up their own problems for the kids to solve. For IBM and Macintosh computers.

Older students may like Math Blaster Mystery (pre-algebra problem solving), Alge-Blaster, and the new What's My Angle?, which teaches geometry with the aid of a wacky miniature golf course. Mystery and Alge-Blaster are available for IBM, Apple II and Macintosh computers, while What's My Angle is available for IBM-compatibles only.

Some of the best educational software I've seen lately puts youngsters in the middle of arcade-style adventure games that require then to read, do math problems or solve logic puzzles.

The Super Solvers series from The Learning Company pits youngsters against the madcap Master of Mischief. In Treasure Mountain (5 to 9), the Master has stolen the magic mountain's treasures, and youngsters have to get them back as they wind their way up the mountain's tricky paths, outwitting mischievous elves along the way. My younger boy loved this one, available for IBM-compatibles.

Others in the series include Midnight Rescue (7 to 10), which requires youngsters to use reading and problem-solving skills to keep the Master and his robots from making a school disappear, as well as Spellbound and OutNumbered.

Eco-Saurus, from Davidson, takes another tack, teaching youngsters from 4 to 9 about conservation and recycling while they try to clean up an island populated by friendly dinosaurs whose home is blighted by trash and energy waste.

For children ages 9 and up, the new Operation Neptune from The Learning Company is a challenging arcade and math game that puts youngsters at the controls of a high-tech submarine trying to recover a space capsule from the ocean floor and save the world from mysterious extra-terrestrial pollution.

To keep the sub running while they try to outwit nasty sharks, stingrays, giant squid and man-eating sea plants, children have to solve a variety of real-life math problems. The play is so good that adults may like this one, too. For IBM-compatibles.

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