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'90S FAMILY

Video Fun Without the Monsters and Guns

July 28, 1996|LYNN SIMROSS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Vicki Esralew is a mom with a mission--to create computer and video products for children that aren't "violent, silly or aggressive."

To that end, in 1993 Esralew and her husband, Bob Aren, started their own educational software company, Kids Count Entertainment. Its first product, "Jack's House," is a kid-friendly computer game in which children 2 through 8 can learn the alphabet, explore the solar system, color dinosaurs, plant a vegetable garden and decorate a dollhouse.

There's not a monster to slay or a bad guy to fear anywhere in "Jack's House," which is based upon the couple's own two-story house in a Chicago suburb and named for their oldest son Jack, 4. They also have two younger children.

"Jack's House" has received raves from software reviewers and, according to Esralew, "wonderful responses from parents." It made its national debut March 1 in the children's departments of Sears stores, and is also available in many computer stores.

"Children today face challenges we never dreamed of," Esralew said. "This is all about teaching values--the importance of love and family and how to use them as a base of support during life's difficulties--that are lost today. I believe if you hear good things, see good things, it can inspire you to do good things."

Esralew and Aren have poured their "life savings and hearts," as Esralew puts it, into Kids Count and now have also have produced "Home," a 13-song collection of original music that's available on cassette or CD. Their newest launch is the "Kids Count Workout!" exercise video for children 3 through 10.

Esralew hopes the workout tape "offers an active alternative for children who get home from school, grab a snack and plop themselves in front of the television set." Routines were choreographed by a physiologist and are performed by seven children and two adults.

Esralew didn't want to use actors, so she held an audition at Northwestern University for area children who wanted to try out. About 300 showed up, she said. "And we had to cut that whole bunch to nine." The workout video was filmed at the Children's Museum in Chicago and features seven original songs.

A former advertising executive, Esralew ran Kids Count from home until last year. The company now has an office, eight employees and a World Wide Web site: http://www.kidscount.com.

Next up will be "Jack's Attic," due in October. This game, for kids 6 through 12, will teach children "the value of old things around the house, that things have value and history," Esralew said.

Kids playing "Jack's Attic" will discover a set of old golf clubs. With a click of the mouse, a child gets a nine-hole miniature golf course that features landmarks from around the world--the Great Wall of China, Stonehenge, an Inca temple, the Eiffel Tower, Mount Rushmore. In an old wooden desk is a fountain pen and the child gets to see how it works. The telescope in the desk leads to a trip into space to see stars and learn about constellations.

"What I'm doing here," Esralew said, "is using modern technology to teach about things that have been around for centuries."

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