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Getting Creative With Art

2 programs take innovative approaches to teaching culture, styles and techniques.

November 09, 2000|JINNY GUDMUNDSEN | jinny@choosechildrensoftware.com

Many software titles for children cover the exact same academic subjects--they just vary in how they present the material. Knowledge Adventure and Humongous Entertainment have just released two titles that are doing something brand new.

"JumpStart Artist" and "Blue's Art Time Activities" are blazing new trails in art education on the computer.

"JumpStart Artist"

"JumpStart Artist" goes beyond mere drawing and creating on the computer and into exploring true art education with children. Through a series of games, "JumpStart Artist" teaches children ages 5 to 8 about color mixing, styles of painting, techniques of painting, what makes folk art, how culture influences art and art history.

"JumpStart Artist" opens with a scene in which a paint palette magically transforms into an interactive art fair with five brightly colored tents to explore. As children explore the activities in the tents, they earn construction pieces for carnival rides. Earn enough pieces, and players can build four rides.

Here are some of the inventive ways that "JumpStart Artist" teaches art:

* Children learn about how a country's culture influences its art by playing an activity in which they are asked to fill in for an animator who is home sick. The animator was in the middle of making artwork for four musical songs, each about a different country. Children paint certain cultural objects for each song. For example, in the Mexican song, children decorate a pinata and a painted skirt. When the song is presented, the child's drawing appears in the animation.

* "JumpStart" teaches children about art history and styles of art by playing a concentration game that replaces missing pages in an art history book. Each game is a mini-mystery in which the cards when matched represent a clue about the style of a specific piece of art. While playing, children might collect clues saying that the artwork is a portrait, that it shows a profile and that it is done in a realistic style. As children collect clues, the program explains these terms to them. Even better, though, once kids have all the clues to a famous painting, they use those clues to decide which of several is the one they seek. When children are introduced to new knowledge and then given a hands-on way to apply that newfound knowledge, the learning really works.

* Children learn about folk art by playing an arcade-style game of collecting objects in a maze-like environment. As kids collect folk objects, the program's characters explain the history of that object and its significance to a specific culture. An object might be a reed basket used by American Indians.

"JumpStart Artist" has traditional computer art activities as well. Even with those, it has found a way to take the ordinary and turn it into the extraordinary. Yes, there is a tent in which to make virtual drawings and paintings, but "JumpStart Artist" combines those opportunities with inventive ways to create virtual quilts and collages as well. In another activity, "JumpStart Artist" again takes a common follow-the-blueprint type of activity and turns it into a hands-on lesson in color mixing. Don't be surprised when you hear your child telling you that fuchsia is a tertiary color.

"JumpStart Artist" makes a wonderful addition to the computer library of any child between ages 5 and 8.

"Blue's Art Time Activities"

Humongous Entertainment also realized that it was time to approach teaching art in a different way. For preschoolers, "Blue's Art Time Activities" broadens the scope of what is appropriate to teach young children about art.

In this adorable title, children join Blue, the polka-dotted dog of "Blue's Clues" television fame, and Blue's owner, Steve, in preparing for the Really Big Art Show at Blue's preschool. Through a series of activities, youngsters explore concepts such as layout, composition, illustration, design and color mixing.

Kids help Periwinkle the Cat create illustrations for her book, Chalk Girl construct a mural using geometric shapes and Al Luminum find recycling materials for his diorama. By playing a virtual board game with the characters, children learn about color mixing. One kid-tester surprised her mom by matter-of-factly explaining that purple--her favorite color--is made by mixing blue and red.

The navigation of "Blue's Art Time Activities" can be confusing at times because you have to complete certain activities before you can get to the Really Big Art Show. Once our kid-testers got the hang of it, there was no stopping their creative juices. Because Blue is such a beloved companion for so many young children, the fact that she is wagging her tail at art means many preschoolers will share her enthusiasm.

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Jinny Gudmundsen is the editor of Choosing Children's Software magazine.

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The Skinny

'JumpStart Artist'

* Price: $20

* Publisher: Knowledge Adventure

* Platform: PC/Mac

* System requirements: On the PC, a Pentium 166 with 32 MB of RAM and 100 MB of available hard disk space. On Macintosh, an iMac or G3 with 32 MB of RAM and 100 MB of available hard disk space.

* Ages: 5 to 8 years

* Web site: http://www.knowledgeadventure.com

* The good: Very smart

* The bad: Almost nothing

* Bottom line: Top honors in art education

'Blue's Art Time Activities'

* Price: $25

* Publisher: Humongous Entertainment

* Platform: PC/Mac

* System requirements: On the PC, a Pentium 166 with 32 MB of RAM. On Macintosh, a PowerPC with 32 MB of RAM.

* Ages: 3 to 6 years

* Web site: http://www.humongous.com

* The good: Adorable

* The bad: Sometimes tough to navigate

* Bottom line: Fun art education for preschoolers

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