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ENVIRONMENT : Software That Teaches Children to Respect the Planet

January 20, 1994|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Children like being masters of all they survey, which is one reason they love computers. And makers of computer software who know that children are being taught not to abuse the planet have found a niche with pro-environment programs.

Southland software stores report heavy sales of titles like "SimCity 2000," which was recently released and spurred by the success of the original "SimCity," which has users fighting smog and leaky sewers as part of the computer game. It challenges children to "compete with neighboring cities, which will lure away citizens and industries if the city's business environment and quality of life decline."

Sometimes called educational software, but often found on shelves alongside regular computer games, these items are so popular that they sell nearly as well as the non-environmental educational sales champ Carmen Sandiego. "SimCity 2000" has outstripped the champ in the past few days.

"We had a waiting list of maybe 30 people before the game even came out," said software department manager Mirko Minaya of the Redondo Beach CompUSA store. He estimates that the store has sold 200 copies in four days.

This trend has not been lost on savvy parents who are looking for a way to get Junior away from television and into an activity that will improve his grades or give him a head start in the job market.

Enter Futurekids, the private after-school computer class offering. This franchised operation started out to be a sort of American answer to juku, a Japanese intensive private tutoring program.

According to Rene Tabor, director of Futurekids of South Bay, children really like environmental software. "Our program is really theme-based. When we were dealing with environmental issues, they really liked it," she said.

Next month, a curriculum with the clever name of Megabyte Zoo will be offered, involving exercises such as this: The tyro computer whiz must "properly define the type of food, plants and temperatures the animals need to survive and remove any trash or pollution from the animal habitats.

Times staff writer Anne Louise Bannon contributed to this story.

TO FIND THEM

Futurekids computer schools in the South Bay area are located in Torrance, Manhattan Beach and San Pedro. Environmental computer programs can be found at computer software retailers. Among the titles children enjoy most are "Zookeeper," "Zug's Dinosaur World," "Nigel's World," "Eco-Saurus," "Eco-Quest" and "SimCity 2000."

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