Software available to meet needs of every student


December 13, 1993|By MICHAEL J. HIMOWITZ

My informal market research indicates that 85 percent of people buying personal computers for the home during the holidays say they're doing it for the kids.

This may be a case of mass guilt-tripping, or at least over-rationalization. But there's no doubt that the shelves are filled with software titles that can do your kids some good. At the very least, educational games are better for their mental health than watching TV or ripping out somebody's pancreas in Mortal Kombat on the Nintendo.

Last time around, I reviewed creativity software for youngsters. This time, I'll talk about programs that aim to teach your children specific skills or impart specific information.

For the preschool crowd, I have yet to see any programs that get a better reaction than Mickey's ABC's, Mickey's 123's and other titles from Disney's early childhood collection. They don't overwhelm kids with pyrotechnics, but the familiar characters and clever animation make them winners.

Broderbund's The Playroom, available for Macintosh and DOS computers, and this year's new entry, The Back Yard (Mac only), take a different tack, inviting children to explore their environment by clicking the mouse on familiar objects that lead them into a variety of creative learning games.

A particularly stunning new release is Zurk's Learning Safari, from Soleil, whose digitized watercolor backgrounds provide a delightful backdrop to your child's adventures with Maya the lion cub. Richard Scarry's Busytown, from Paramount Interactive, gives youngsters the opportunity to join a variety of cheerfully animated Scarry characters on a tour of 12 theme playgrounds that provide practice at manipulating objects, solving problems, matching shapes, counting, reading simple words and rhyming.

Early readers will enjoy Disney's Follow The Reader, which lets ,, youngsters create, read and hear their own animated stories, with Mickey Mouse as the actor who does their bidding. Another favorite for years has been the Reader Rabbit Line from The Learning Company (TLC).

The latest release, Reader Rabbit 3, adds writing skills to reading and vocabulary by putting your youngsters on the staff of a newspaper called the Daily Skywriter, where they can create stories, solve mysteries as an investigative reporter, and even write movie reviews.

For arithmetic, Davidson's Math Blaster has been a favorite for a decade. The latest version, "In Search of Spot," takes children on a tour of space in search of the Trash Alien who has captured their mascot.

Kids also will enjoy Math Ace, a new release from Magic Quest which will pit them against a variety of nasty viruses who have infected the computer chips of the math archives.

Older youngsters can have some real fun with the lively Operation Neptune from TLC, which requires math and problem-solving skills as well as arcade-style reflexes as they pilot a submarine in search of radioactive waste canisters that threaten the ocean.

If you have a CD-ROM drive and a sound board, there are some wonderful treats in store for your kids. Broderbund's has added two new titles to its interactive Living Books Series -- a crazed retelling of the Aesop's The Tortoise and the Hare and The New Kid on the Block, a collection of poems by Jack Prelutzky. These rich and wonderful programs encourage youngsters to read and give them free rein to explore their subject in-depth by clicking on literally hundreds of objects that spring to life in strange and wonderful ways. Just Grandma and Me and Arthur's Teacher Trouble, released last year, also are superb.

You say your kids like animals? A whole menagerie is ready to come roaring off the shelf. You can start younger children off with Kid's Zoo from Knowledge Adventure, chock full of pictures, facts, sounds, games and even movies. Davidson's Zookeeper puts you in charge of 50 different animals threatened by a bunch of ne'er-do-wells. You'll have to learn a lot about different species them to keep them happy and healthy. If you have a

CD-ROM, The San Diego Zoo Animals puts on an amazing display of video clips,combined with a wealth of narrated information.

For youngsters fascinated by dinosaurs, there's plenty of Jurassic software available. Microsoft's Dinosaurs and Dinosaur Adventure from Knowledge Adventure will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about these particular reptiles, while MECC's Dino Park Tycoon puts you in charge of a dinosaur park, where you'll have to combine shrewd business acumen with knowledge of dinosaurs to stay in business and make a profit.

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