Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Software Designed for Children

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Software Designed for Children

Article excerpt

Microcomputers have long ceased to be oddities in public libraries. Today they are found at the reference desk, in technical services, in the administrative offices, and in public access areas. Patrons of all ages have access to them and use them for a variety of purposes. From word processing to data management to graphics, library patrons have benefited from librarians' early embrace of personal computers.

When I began my career as a librarian in the early 1980s, computers were very new and just beginning to penetrate into public libraries. One of my first assignments was to supervise the room that housed the library's public access microcomputers. Along with that assignment went the task of selecting software. At that time, computer games were a topic of conversation at many meetings I attended in which librarians discussed how they were using computers. The common question was "To buy or not to buy?"

Children's areas seemed to have far fewer problems with this issue. This was probably because software developed for children naturally incorporates fun into learning. There wasn't as rigid a division between recreational and "serious" software. That continues to be the case.

For all the words written about microcomputers in public libraries, there seems to be a dearth of material for the librarian looking for good choices for kids' software. A search of both Library Literature and ERIC found only a very few pieces that discussed children's software, and almost all of those placed such software in the context of microcomputers in the classroom.

This month I'd like to take a look at some of the current crop of MS-DOS software specifically aimed at younger children, the 4-to 8-year-old set. The range of software is wide, with some very good values to be found in the shareware world as well as the commercial.

In terms of the peripherals you'll need, a printer is a must. Many of these have print options, and kids love to see their own work on paper. A mouse is not required for any of these, but in some cases, it will make movement through the program much easier.

Sound may be an issue in some libraries. Much children's software is making use not only of excellent graphics but sound as well. Many of the programs mentioned below speak to users or have sound effects that ring out from time to time.

Mickey's Crossword Puzzle Maker

If you think Disney just knows movies and amusement parks, software like this one and Mickey's Jigsaw Puzzles will soon change some of your minds. Both of these are high-quality efforts with enough variety and difficulty levels to keep a wide range of age groups occupied for a long time.

Mickey's Crossword Puzzle Maker is advertised as suitable for 5 to 8 year olds, but younger children, especially those just beginning to recognize words, may find it too challenging. In essence, this program offers children a chance to create and solve crossword puzzles, using familiar Disney characters as clues or even opponents.

When users begin the program, they are prompted as to whether or not they want to solve a puzzle already written or whether they want to create a new one. You can opt to solve a crossword already programmed by the publisher or one that you previously created.

If you choose to use one that is already programmed, you can choose to have a familiar opponent such as Goofy or Mickey Mouse. Or the puzzle can be completed with a friend or alone.

After that, you will be prompted whether to choose the Snow White puzzle, the Cinderella puzzle, or one of several other Disney stories. Even if a child can't read or spell, given the ubiquitous nature of Disney videos, he probably can answer the clues.

For younger users, you can design puzzles that use pictures as clues rather than word phrases.

Puzzles can be printed, or they can be saved to disk for later use.

Mickey's Jigsaw Puzzles

This Disney effort allows the user to put together one of fifteen jigsaw puzzles. …

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