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I Spy Things to Find, Puppets, Puzzles and Eager Minds

March 29, 2001|JINNY GUDMUNDSEN | jinny@choosingchildrenssoftware.com

Most children adore the Jean Marzollo "I Spy" book series, which invites kids to find a special object by looking at photos crammed with various items. In 1997, Scholastic created a software version of these well-loved books. "I Spy Junior Puppet Playhouse" and "I Spy School Days" are the most recent offerings.

'I Spy Junior Puppet Playhouse'

"I Spy Junior Puppet Playhouse" is the newest title in the I Spy Junior series designed for very young children. Four of the seven play areas combine "I Spy" visual puzzles with stories told through puppets on screen.

As children solve the riddles, the puppets act out a story. Answers to the riddles animate.

For example, in the Princess & the Dragon area, as children spy "a princess, a king on his throne, two silver spoons, and a purple cone," along comes a dragon that steals the crown from the princess. To find out how the story ends, children must proceed to the next three screens and solve more riddles.

Curling up with a child on your lap to explore an "I Spy" book is a wonderful way to learn because the book provides a springboard for vocabulary and number awareness. But the "I Spy Junior Puppet Playhouse" has advantages as well.

The software presents the same kind of puzzles that are found in the books, but it is interactive. Instead of an adult reading the riddle out loud, the computer does it so that nonreaders can play.

The words in the riddle are highlighted first when read and again when the object is found. When the child finds the objects listed in the riddle and clicks on them, they animate, adding a new level of excitement to the process of discovery.

"I Spy Junior Puppet Playhouse" also has several play areas not available in print. The Prop Box activity is a wonderful sorting activity with three levels of difficulty. Children drag objects to boxes containing things that have similar attributes. If a child errs, the object falls back to its original place.

'I Spy School Days'

"I Spy School Days" brings the world of "I Spy" books to children ages 5 to 9. Its interactive format enables kids to explore unique "I Spy" games impossible in books.

The software presents nine play areas. There are the traditional riddle pages, where children scour the picture on the screen for the objects that answer the riddles. But there is much more.

In Codebreaker, children search a screen full of objects grouped around letters. This time they are trying to crack a letter code represented by objects instead of solving word riddles. Oops Hoops tests children's sorting skills. With Find Me, children search throughout the other areas of the software to find 12 objects that fall under a certain category. Make Your Own I Spy enables children to create puzzles of their own.

The favorite activity among kid testers was Balloon Popper, which features a screen with three intertwined Rube Goldberg-type contraptions. Each contraption is missing crucial pieces. Children start a device running to find where it's broken. The program then provides children with a riddle that sends them back through other activities to find the object that completes the contraption.

Kids find these puzzles engaging and fun. They also are a great way to expose children to vocabulary, spelling, reading, logic and creativity.

The only weakness in both of these software titles is that eventually the puzzles repeat. However, since each title provides an area where children can create their own puzzles, there is always more to explore.

*

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

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The Skinny

"I Spy Junior Puppet Playhouse"

Price: $20

Ages: 3-5

Platform: PC/Mac

System requirements: On the PC, a Pentium 90 with 16 MB of RAM and 10 MB of available hard disk space. On the Mac, a Power PC 90 running System 7.6.1 or later with 32 MB of RAM and 10 MB of available hard disk space.

Publisher: Scholastic

The good: A fun way to introduce language and math skills

The bad: Puzzles eventually repeat

Bottom line: Great puzzles

*

"I Spy School Days"

Price: $30

Ages: 5-9

Platform: PC/Mac

System requirements: On the PC, a Pentium 90 with 16 MB of RAM and 10 MB of available hard disk space. On the Mac, a Power PC 90 running System 7.5 or later with 16 MB of RAM and 10 MB of available hard disk space.

Publisher: Scholastic

The good: Nine wonderful puzzle areas

The bad: Puzzles eventually repeat

Bottom line: Great adaptation of "I Spy" books

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