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Kids' Software

Franchises Miss Mark

Sometimes a great brand doesn't translate into a product from which kids can learn.

November 08, 2001|JINNY GUDMUNDSEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Having a great brand is no guarantee of a great program.

Two new titles on the market-"Elmo's World: Pets, Food & Telephones" and "'Reader Rabbit Preschool: Sparkle Star Rescue"'---show that even the best franchises can mess up. Here's a closer look.

"Elmo's World: Pets, Food & Telephones":

Adorable Elmo is as charming as always in this new title. With his pet goldfish, Dorothy, Elmo re-creates his popular "Sesame Street" segment called Elmo's World. Elmo explores three different subjects: pets, food, and telephones.

One segment leClicking on Shade leads to silly Mr. Noodle, a character who always does funny stuff, such as trying to talk into the bottom of the telephone. Another The Computer offers 12 videos from the television show or the option to receive an e-mail, which Elmo reads. Yet another selection leads to three The piano leads to a simple music activity where kids use the keyboard to play the piano. Clicking on Drawer leads to the three games found in the software---one for each subject.

The games are cute and well done. When playing with pets, children sort crazy animals into two groups. The software automatically adjusts the category, depending on how the child sorts. With telephones, players help Elmo play a guessing game with Telly Monster. Telly uses a phone to let the player hear the noises around him, and the player then guesses where he is located. In the food game, With Food, players help Cookie Monster determine what food is depicted in a close-up photo.

The software is a great disappointment because of its lack of interactivity. Other than the three games , the piano, and a few other activities, hotspots, there is very little for a preschooler to do. The 12 videos, which ran in choppy slow motion on our 500-megahertz machine, eare mploy ppassive learning.

This software appears to be a halfhearted effort to repackage a popular segment of the "Sesame Street" television show. My recommendation: Wwatch the show, not this passive CD-ROM.

"Reader Rabbit Preschool: Sparkle Star Rescue!":

In this new software title, Reader Rabbit and his best buddy, Sam the Lion, are approached by a little, sparkling, fairy-type creature from the magical land of Sparkalot.

Sparkalot produces all the new stars in the sky, and production has stopped because some crazy pirate ship has crashed on the top of Mt. Brill--the source of new stars.

Reader and Sam immediately travel to Sparkalot to see whether they can help. They solicit the help of the player to travel around the island to find magical stones known as "'bbrillites."' If the player can collect enough brillites to place inside Mt. Brill, it will erupt and blow the pirate ship away. Then new stars will appear in the sky, and the old ones will again sparkle again.

Players travel to six different locations on the enchanting island. At Glowworm mine, they help power up a locomotive by identifying the correct shapes and colors. At Rainbow Falls, youngsters listen to directions on how to paint "sparkazie" flowers; and at a special grotto, they help baby "'lighting"' bugs find their parents by matching shapes and patterns. Kids even get to choreograph a "'danceaquake"' to help the mountain explode. Except for the danceaquake, these activities adjust in difficulty depending on how the player is doing, and they are appropriate for preschoolers and kindergartners.

The two remaining activities, however, are the ones that are troublesome. The easiest level in Rush River Letters requires children to match beginning letters of objects to a choice of letters. Many preschoolers are just learning to recognize the shapes of the letters, and have not yet made the connection that letters make up words. This activity is too hard for many preschoolers.

Likewise, the math activity is too difficult. The first level asks children to load "sparklenauts" into a space ship to reach a target number.

Unfortunately, the rocket ship already has some sparklenauts preloaded. Thus, on the easiest level, preschoolers are asked to add as well as count. Most beginning learners need to practice identifying and counting numbers. Adding to reach a target number comes later.

Besides setting the content too high, the programmers failed to provide sufficient help when little ones are struggling-----a must in good preschool software.

On the positive side, the story line, the scenery, and the characters are delightful. Choose this software for kindergartners or plan to help your child through the two activities that are too hard.

*

Jinny Gudmundsen is editor of Choosing Children's Software magazine. She can be reached at jinny@choosingchildrenssoftware.com.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The Skinny "Elmo's World: Pets, Food & Telephones"

* Price: $20

* Ages: 2 to 5

* Platform: PC

* System requirements: A Pentium 166 with 32 MB of RAM and 20 MB of available hard disk space

* Publisher: Encore Software

* The good: Three games

* The bad: Not enough to do

* Bottom line: Pass

*

"Reader Rabbit Preschool: Sparkle Star Rescue"

* Price: $20

* Ages: 5 to 6

* 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 the Mac, 32 MB of RAM and 100 MB of available hard disk space.

* Publisher: Learning Co.

* The good: Great story with four good activities

* The bad: Some content too tough

* Bottom line: Better for kindergartners than preschoolers

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