Software for children: Think mind, not games


December 06, 1993|By MICHAEL J. HIMOWITZ

If the crowds I've seen in stores are any indication, there will be a lot of new computers under the tree this year.

While shelling out a grand or two for hardware may seem overwhelming, don't forget to set aside a few dollars for software. After all, your kids will want to do something with their new computer besides play solitaire.

Herewith are some suggestions for new software shoppers, as well as parents who already own computers and want gifts on disk for their youngsters.

The best software for children, I've found, builds on their own creativity and desire to make things. Programs that build on this foundation will be on children's play lists long after those games have become bor-r-r-r-ing.

One of your first purchases should be Broderbund's Print Shop Deluxe. This longtime best seller makes it easy to create greeting cards, posters, banners and the like. The latest version includes high-resolution scalable fonts and vector graphics that make theresults look like the work of a commercial printer.

The new release, available in DOS, Windows and Macintosh, is more complex than the old one, which means adults may need to ask their kids to show them how to use it. But it's worth the effort. Print Shop Deluxe requires the horsepower of a 80386 PC processor or a newer Mac.

If you have an older computer, try the earlier version of the program, which goes by the name of The New Print Shop. Also check out the The New Print Shop Deluxe Companion, which adds certificates, business cards, post cards and envelopes to the program's repertoire.

For youngsters who like to draw, Kid Pix is a paint program full of crazy special effects, sounds and other goodies. Watch out when the kids erase a picture, though. It can get very noisy. Kid Pix is also available in DOS, Windows and Mac versions.

Illustrating stories

Another delightful offering along the same lines is Davidson's Kid Works 2, which adds writing and speech to an easy-to-use drawing program. Youngsters can use the program to create their own illustrated stories, with words that magically turn into pictures and vice versa. The program talks, too.

It's available for IBM-compatibles and Macs, although you'll need a sound board to get the most out of the DOS version.

You might also want to consider MECC's Storybook Weaver, available for DOS machines and Macs. It lets kids create and illustrate stories with beautifully drawn backgrounds of scenes from around the world.

A new offering from Davidson is Kid CAD, the first computer-aided design program for youngsters. This three-dimensional design studio lets children create houses, stores, office buildings, forts or whatever out of building blocks that click into place.

Once the buildings are completed, kids can move around and view their creations from any vantage point, then populate them with people, pets and furniture.

It's an entertaining and interesting introduction to design concepts, available for IBM-compatibles running Microsoft Windows. You'll need a fast 386 machine or better yet, a 486 for this one.

Interactive music

If your youngsters like music and you have an IBM-compatible computer with a CD-ROM and sound board, there are a couple of new Windows titles from Paramount Interactive that are unlike anything else I've seen.

Lenny's MusicToons is a wonderful introduction to interactive music. It allows youngsters to create their own band from a stable of stars, co-stars and backup musicians and put them into a music video, complete with props and lighting effects. There are also a couple of nifty arcade-style games to help teach note reading. There's a lot of fun and room to explore here.

For older children and adults, Rock, Rap 'n Roll is a music machine that lets you create and record your own songs. It comes complete with solo riffs on a dozen instruments (including human voices) and special effects, in a variety of musical styles, including rock, blues, rap, big band, African, Latin and reggae. You don't have to be able to read a note of music to use it.

That's also one of the program's limitations. Because you can't choose the chords or harmony, there's a sort of random, modern jazz feel to most of the tunes. The exception is the blues screen, which lets you create some great 12-bar riffs. The whole program a fascinating and original approach to learning and making music.

Help on term papers

If your kids have to write reports or term papers, take a look at the Student Writing Center, from the Learning Company. The newest version, available for IBM-compatibles running Microsoft Windows, complements an earlier Macintosh release.

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