Magazine article Technology & Learning

Seven Early Learning Adventures

Magazine article Technology & Learning

Seven Early Learning Adventures

Article excerpt

Young children's software titles have always been among the most creative and engaging on the market, and they're still leading the way in many respects. The best new offerings immerse youngsters in richly drawn, kid-size worlds where they move about freely, learning through investigation and play. Games and activities are also better designed than ever, emphasizing reading and math readiness and, increasingly, higher-level thinking skills such as predicting and strategizing.

Here, we look at seven recently released early learning programs that offer young kids lots of challenges, plenty of chuckles, and a leg up on the competition in the education deparment.

The Aladdin Activity Center (Disney)

It's pretty safe to assume that kids would go for a software title featuring the same rich settings and appealing characters they know from the movie Aladdin, even if the content were barely existent. This title, however, presents a well-conceived design and solid range of offerings, including spelling, memory, problem-solving, and other important early-learning activities.

Kids navigate through the richly colored marketplace, Sultan's palace, and other fun settings where they can choose from a mixture of appealing exercises, including matching pictures or characteristics; solving puzzles; completing mazes; or recreating musical sequences. The program also offers some strictly-for-entertainment features such as a coloring book and several clips from the movie. Three levels of difficulty for each of the learning games give the program a long play life and let older kids enjoy it, too. Unfortunately, even the lowest skill level can be a bit too challenging in some of these activities.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the program is the hilarious genie, who provides commentary throughout. He mixes witty quips that even very young kids enjoy with helpful feedback such as re-stating instructions or giving clues. The well-done Robin Williams-style impression makes you laugh out loud even when you're only listening to the alphabet being read.

Alphabonk Farm (Headbone Interactive)

Youngsters will learn a lot about the alphabet, and farm life too, in this lowkey, interactive title that presents compelling full-screen photographs of bees in honeycombs, fresh peas in a crate, barnyard animals, and other farm-related creatures and objects.

The first in the GiggleBone Gang series, this program displays and pronounces more than 350 words, exploring their meanings through homey anecdotes and clear animations that show an x-ray of a hen's two stomachs, how a silo is used, and so on. Especially effective are the animations demonstrating complicated processes, such as irrigation, or the workings of a harvester and other farm machinery.

Alphabonk Farm also does a good job of recreating a rural flavor, with an old farm truck parked in the weeds, the sounds of sprinklers and chickens, and a grizzled farmer in overalls who uses terms like "okey-dokey" and "holy moly" in telling his tall tales.

A number of poems, stories, and activities are also included, though some are more thoughtfully designed than others. One of the stronger ones lets kids learn about eggs by watching hens lay them, cooking them, and coloring them. Friendly barnyard animals help youngsters find their way around. They also do their best to entertain with humorous comments during the screen transitions. Unfortunately, the long wait for games to load and the not-so-intuitive interface may be sources of frustration for youngsters.

Freddi Fish and the Case of the Missing Kelp Seeds (Humongous Entertainment)

Taking a cue from some of the popular game titles that adults find so addictive, Freddi Fish (like the earlier Fatty Bear and Putt Putt titles) presents an inviting, virtual cartoon environment where users move around collecting clues to solve a mystery. Less focused on specific readiness activities than the other programs in this roundup, it nevertheless provides youngsters with lots of opportunities to plan ahead, solve problems, and test their memories as they work through an exciting deep-sea adventure. …

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