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Cartoon Canines Aid Young Readers

Stars of 'Blue's Clues' and 'Clifford' offer some nifty tricks on new software titles. But Blue is top dog.

October 19, 2000|JINNY GUDMUNDSEN | jinny@choosechildrensoftware.com

We know that dog is man's best friend, but did you know that digital dogs can be a preschooler's best reading teacher? Two famous pooches have bounded across media into children's software to help little ones learn to read.

Blue, of "Blue's Clues" television fame, is highly successful at exposing tots to the wonderful world of words in "Blue's Reading Time Activities." Clifford, of the "Clifford the Big Red Dog" book and TV series, delivers a good -- but not top-notch -- performance in "Clifford Reading."

"Blue's Reading Time Activities"

For those unfamiliar with the captivating canine Blue, she is a blue-felt dog who expresses herself with her ears, her body and some sounds--but not words. Blue lives with her human, Steve, and attends preschool with a great group of talking objects and animals.

In "Reading Time Activities," Blue helps her friend, Cash Register, who is out of newspapers to sell. Blue wants to create more newspapers for Cash Register, and she solicits the player's help to gather "news" and "write" stories for their own newspapers.

To make a newspaper, children engage in five activities. The activities include helping Dot, the animated period, put a dictionary in order. Dot reads the definition of a word and the child matches the word to the corresponding picture.

In Mailbox, children collect "powerful words," or verbs, by playing maze games that use verbs to control movement. Children learn the meaning of these verbs by watching how characters act when told to "jump" or "walk."

The title approaches reading differently from most early-learning reading titles. It is not trying to teach the alphabet or letter sounds.

Rather, it exposes young children to the use of words and increases their word recognition and vocabulary.

What makes "Reading Time Activities" so good is that each of the activities is highly inventive.

In addition, the program doesn't miss an opportunity to expose children to words and reading. For example, the character Fan gets so excited that he blows many of his sticker words all around Blue's world, creating opportunities for children to hunt for words and to read.

Every object in Blue's world is labeled with words that the program reads aloud when children drag the mouse pointer over them.

"Reading Time Activities" also shines because it provides a framework that encourages return play. When children create five newspapers, they receive a piece to a 45-piece word cube.

Our kidtesters loved playing with Blue and collecting these puzzle pieces.

"Clifford Reading"

Clifford is a really big red dog--the size of a house, in fact. He lives with Emily Elizabeth, and in "Clifford Reading," preschoolers join Emily Elizabeth in playing word games to earn tickets to use at a prize booth. They also earn books that can be printed on an attached printer.

There are six activities to explore with Clifford and Emily Elizabeth.

For example, at the carnival dunking booth, Clifford volunteers to get dunked if the player can recognize sight words that float by on balloons.

When visiting Emily Elizabeth's dad at his T-shirt shop, the player helps spell words to put on the T-shirts.

The movie theater gives children a place to sort letters as they fall off the marquee.

Clifford's grouchy neighbors provide kids with an opportunity to practice hearing sounds and blending them.

Although "Clifford Reading" covers many early-reading skills, such as letter recognition, phonics, sight word recognition, sound blending and word building, it has some weaknesses.

The program presents too much instructional talking at one time. For example, Emily Elizabeth introduces the player to six letters, their sounds and example words at the same time--a process that takes several minutes of passive listening.

The software also suffers from the lack of an engaging story line to tie the activities together. And, at times, it is hard to hear requested letter sounds in some of the activities.

Despite these weaknesses, children who love Clifford will enjoy playing with him and can practice many important reading skills. A better way to play with Clifford, though, is to check out the stronger "Clifford Thinking Adventures."

*

Jinny Gudmundsen is editor of Choosing Children's Software magazine at http://www.ChooseChildrenSoftware.com.

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The Skinny

Blue's Reading Time Activities

* Price: $25

* Publisher: Humongous

* System Requirements: Windows users need a Pentium 166 with at least 32mb of RAM. Macintosh users need a Power PC 132 running System 7.5.3 or higher with at least 32mb of RAM.

* Ages: 4 to 6 years

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

* Bottom Line: Top-notch early-reading software

Clifford Reading

* Price: $30

* Publisher: Scholastic

* System Requirements: Windows users need a Pentium 90 with at least 16mb of RAM and 35mb of available hard disk space. Macintosh users need a Power PC 120 running System 7.5.3 or higher with at least 16mb of RAM and 35mb of available hard disk space.

* Ages: 4 to 6 years

* Web Site: http://www.scholastic.com

* Bottom Line: Good, but not great

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