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Edutaining Kids Selects the Best Children's Software of 2003

 
 

The Year's Best Children's Software


Throughout the year, we were busy evaluating and testing kids' games, and now it's time to round up the titles we deem the year's best

We've organized what we consider the year's best children's software releases into the following categories: 

Math Language Arts
Science Music
Foreign Language Reference
Logic Fun & Games

 

 

Math Missions Grades 3-5: The Amazing Arcade Adventure

This is an excellent program for a variety of math exercises within the context of an adventure.

What does it do? Children attempt to rebuild a city by helping out store clerks who are not very adept at math. Kids earn money by playing a variety of activities found in the city. Kids do real-world math problems in graphing, fractions, rounding off, percentages, and more--and they work towards owning and managing an arcade.

Why do we recommend this title? This CD-ROM strikes an excellent balance between fun and learning. 

Who is it for? Three difficulty levels are intended to cover third to fifth grade math. The program is likely to be too challenging for children just entering third grade, and is therefore best for children working at a 4th-5th grade level.

See our full review of this excellent software here, and our screenshot gallery of the game here.

Our rating of the game: A+

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Math Mission 3-5 With Bonus Card Game (3rd - 5th Grade) (DVD Box) at Amazon.com]

 

Math Missions Grades K-2: The Race to Spectacle City Arcade is a fantastic program from Scholastic that strikes an extraordinary balance between play and learning. This game cleverly involves children in practicing real-world math skills at three difficulty levels appropriate for late Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade--all in one package. 

What does it do? Children attempt to rebuild a city using their math skills. The city is fun, but the store clerks are not very good in math. Kids earn money for the city by playing a variety of fun activities. Children measure, weigh, count money, explore quantities, work with place value, and more, in the fun cartoon setting of Spectacle City.

Why do we recommend this title? The program provides plenty of practice with math skills that children need. The program is fun, encouraging, and creates a wonderfully positive environment for learning.

Who is it for? The range in difficulty levels makes this game excellent for accommodating the often large variance in children's skill levels in early elementary. Late Kindergarteners to second graders.

See our full review of this excellent software here, and our screenshot gallery of the game here.

For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Math Mission K-2 With Bonus Card Game (Kindergarten - 2nd Grade) (DVD Box)

 

 

CyberChase Carnival Chaos

coverDeductive thinking skills and mathematical concepts are exercised as kids play this CD-ROM based on the award-winning PBS television show.  

What does it do? Kids recover a Mega-bolt from the scoundrel Hacker along with the Cyber Squad. Kids play logical thinking activities that have them making estimations, predictions, plans, and deductions--higher-order skills necessary for success in math.

Why do we recommend this title? Strong educational content is delivered subtly through brain-teasing games. Although challenging at times, the game is manageable and engaging.

Who is it for? Best for children ages 8-11.

See our full review of this excellent software here.

Our Rating: A

For more information, user reviews, or to buyCyberchase Carnival Chaos

 

 

 

 

Clifford Phonics (Now Available as Clifford Reading Pack)

This encouraging title advances in challenge slowly, making it ideal for children just learning to work with small words. 

What does it do? As kids play the game, they work with basic letter sounds, very simple sight words, word-object association, basic word families, and more. 

Why do we recommend this title? This CD-ROM is uncommonly age-appropriate—just right for emergent readers. It effectively drills simple phonics a little bit at a time. 

Who is it for? It’s ideal for children just beginning to find meaning in short small words, and never over-stimulates or frustrates with inappropriate material for the intended age group.

See our full review of this excellent software here.

Our rating: A

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Clifford Reading Pack (DVD Box), which includes Clifford Phonics software as well as 6 Clifford Phonics Scholastic books so that kids can practice new phonics skills away from the computer as well! Great deal.]

 

 

coverFlash Action: Phonics Made Easy

Ideal for children needing to brush up on their phonics skills--particularly for kids just graduating from first grade-- Flash Action: Phonics Made Easy is filled with exercises that are fun to complete, and excellent for reinforcing early elementary phonics essentials.

What does it do? Essentially, the program offers electronic interactive flash cards, as the name of the series suggests. Kids complete the exercises and work toward opening up games. The exercises span such things as consonant sounds, beginning and ending sounds, blends and digraphs, short and long vowels, and word families.  

Why do we recommend this title? It's such a fun program that kids actually enjoy playing and don't easily stop. The graphics are bright and everything is clear and straightforward. Animations are cheerful, and the reward games actually have academic value. There's some solid learning to be found in this little gem, and the price is right, too.

Who is it for? Best for children working at a late first-grade and early second-grade level.

See our screenshot gallery for pictures from, and notes about, the game here.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Flash Action Phonics Made Easy at Amazon.com]

 

 

 

 

 

Hungry Red Planet

This very unique simulation game actively involves children in learning about the food pyramid, nutritional content of foods, and more.

What does it do? Set in the future, this game sends kids on a mission to Mars where they must gather food to send back to an overpopulated Earth. They create menus, manage money, and learn nutritional facts, and consequences, about food items.

Why do we recommend this title? This is a distinctive and inspired program that makes nutrition meaningful to kids. It's somewhat challenging but also very engaging. Kids come away from the program with a stronger sense of what foods are best for them.

Who is it for? Best for children approximately ages 10-15.

Our Rating: A+

To Buy: Health Media Lab

 

 

 


coverAlice in Vivaldi's Four Seasons

Alice is trapped in a musical clock. Twelve musical activities, including ingenious musical puzzles, must be played in order to fix the clock and free Alice.

What does it do? Children receive a fantastic workout for the brain as they strengthen listening skills, learn about musical instruments and their unique sounds, and enjoy--and learn!--songs from Vivaldi. Very unique!  

Why do we recommend this title? We are thrilled with the educational opportunities offered in this engaging game! Brain-teasing exercises in sound discrimination and memory are featured. 

Who is it for? Best for children ages 7 and up.

[To buy: Alice in Vivaldi's Four Seasons]

 

 

 

 

Mia Language Adventure: The Kidnap Caper

This engrossing adventure offers foreign language learning in either Spanish or French (kids choose the second language).

What does it do? As children solve a mystery in a graphically-rich world of mice and rats, they take part in activities that explore early vocabulary in either French or Spanish, including animals, professions, the alphabet, body parts, numbers, and more. Kids build sentences in the foreign language and are exposed to simple dialogues as they play.

Why do we recommend this title? This title is unique in that foreign language learning is part of a problem-solving adventure. Children can also play the multi-level activities independently of the adventure.

Who is it for? Best for children who prefer adventure games. Children need some patience to complete the problem-solving mission. Best for ages 7 and up.

Our Rating: A

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: KUTOKA Mia's Language Adventure (Windows/Macintosh) at Amazon.com]

 

 

 

 

coverEncarta Reference Library 2004

This exceptional reference includes the Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe, Homework and Research Tools, Dictionary and Thesaurus, Encarta World Atlas, Encarta Africana, translation dictionaries, and more. New to the 2004 edition is video content from the Discovery Channel and a "Visual Browser" feature.  A DVD edition is also available at the same price.

What does it do? Children will find the up-to-date information they need for school reports and projects. Project starters are also included, as well as games that help hone their trivia and geography skills.

Why do we recommend this title? This series is vibrant and alive with up-to-date content and fabulous features that attract kids and parents and hold their interest. Kids won't only be turning to this resource for their homework needs -- they'll enjoy browsing the reference library just for the fun of it!

Who is it for? Best for children ages 10 and up. For encyclopedia beginners, turn to World Book (see below).

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Encarta Reference Library 2004 (CD-ROM set) or Encarta Reference Library 2004 DVD at Amazon.com]

Our rating of the software: A+ 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Encarta Reference Library 2004 (Small Box) or Encarta Reference Library 2004 DVD (DVD edition) at Amazon.com]

 

 

coverWorld Book 2004 Edition

Best for encyclopedia beginners, World Book 2004 streamlines information for young researchers, providing them just the right and the right amount of information about typical subjects kids need to know about. Although they will outgrow it, children who are starting out in the world of research and school projects will find this title invaluable, easy to use, and inviting to browse. Most importantly, this program is easy to read.

Our Rating: A

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: World Book Encyclopedia 2004 Edition ]

 

 

 

 

coverLearn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster

If you're looking for a chess program that encourages an interest in the revered game of chess, this software title might just do the trick--and teach children a few valuable tricks once they've been won over! Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster uses animation and a story line to capture children's interest in the game. 

What does it do? When Fritz's parents go on vacation, he gets to be "king for a day"--that is until an evil King challenges Fritz to a duel. Children get to explore the castle and grounds with Fritz and his cousin Bianca, and take part in arcade-style games that teach them chess basics and strategies. There's an "Intelligym", which is a training ground for children to practice their skills. The goal is to learn all you can before the big "duel" with King Black. 

Why do we recommend this title? This is a nice, step-by-step program that features some quite creative games that help kids build thinking skills. Children's software really needed a title like this one! Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster is a tad slow-moving at times, but its system is quite effective and the story very charming. Slowly but surely, kids learn the basics of the game of chess as they follow Fritz and his cousin Bianca through the castle grounds. What sets this title apart is its story line. Children don't just jump in and learn chess. Instead, they follow an animated adventure. Also, the mini-games and lessons are strong and, oftentimes, quite clever. Highly recommended!

Who is it for? Best for children ages 7-11 who want to learn the game of chess. 

Our Rating: A

See our full review of the program.


[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster at Amazon.com]

 

 

coverI Spy Fantasy

The I Spy series of CD-ROMs simply gets better and better. This year's release is fantastic. The trademark I Spy riddles and lush images come alive in I Spy CD-ROMs, and I Spy Fantasy is jam-packed with things to do and to see. Fortunately, the game is as rich in educational value as it is rich with visual stimuli. 

Replay value is high because of the fact that there are three levels to the game. Completing the game the first time takes many hours for most kids. Most will find the game compelling enough that it begs to be played on the second and third level. Gorgeous screens, pleasingly stumping riddles, and rich replayable content set I Spy Fantasy apart. Highly recommended!

Who is this game for? The box reads ages 6-10. Many six year olds will find the game a little too difficult to complete on their own. This game is best for children ages 8-10, especially those who enjoy solving riddles and problems.

Our Rating: A+

See our full review of the game here and a screenshot gallery here.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: I Spy Fantasy at Amazon.com]

 

 

 

 

coverNancy Drew The Haunted Carousel

This tenth game in the excellent role-playing series sticks with the formula that made previous releases popular, and even improves upon it. Best for kids who are up to the challenge of a mystery adventure, approximately ages 11 and up, Nancy Drew The Haunted Carousel offers strong content, a fantastic story line, and educational value to boot (the latter offered in the series' trademark subtle manner). Children get the opportunity to step into teen sleuth Nancy Drew's shoes as she interviews mysterious characters, solves plenty of logic puzzles, and more. Kids will relish the chance to play detective. Fun, exciting, and challenging!

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Nancy Drew: The Haunted Carousel at Amazon.com]

 

 

 

coverZoo Tycoon Complete

Microsoft Zoo Tycoon is an outstanding simulation software for kids. Children can build their very own zoo, but they use their brains as they do. They are managers as well, and they learn quite a bit about animals as they play. 

Why do we recommend this title? This CD-ROM strikes an excellent balance between fun and learning. Although not explicitly educational, this program is excellent for developing thinking skills. Expansion packs for the game have been released since Zoo Tycoon was first on the market. Now all of these are included in the recently-released Microsoft Zoo Tycoon Complete. This new title contains the original Zoo Tycoon, Dinosaur Digs Expansion Pack, and Marine Mania Expansion Pack, as well as some all-new content, including the new Endangered Species Theme Pack. This is a fabulous game that kids love! 

Who is it for? Best for children who enjoy simulation software games, ages 8-12.

Our Rating: A+


[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Zoo Tycoon Complete Collection at Amazon.com]

 

 

 

coverPowerpuff Girls Learning Challenge #2: Princess Snorebucks

A fun story line and educational activities featuring Spanish vocabulary, language arts, music, and math make this title an exciting "learning challenge". 

Why do we recommend this title? 
Although the educational focus is broad and not particularly deep, this program offers an appealing story line, age-appropriate content, and a general good time.

Who is it for? Children ages 6-9.

Our Rating: A


[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: The Powerpuff Girls Learning Challenge 2: Princess Snorebucks at Amazon.com]

 

 

 

coverSim City 4 Deluxe

This updated classic simulation game includes the Rush Hour expansion pack in the package. It offers involving, addictive gameplay. 

Why do we recommend this title? 
The game demands that kids use plenty of strategy, planning, and analysis as they take on the role of mayor of a city kids create from the ground up. Players need to be creative in their thinking.

Who is it for? Children who enjoy simulation software, ages 10 and up.

Our Rating: A


[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: SimCity 4 Deluxe Edition at Amazon.com]

 

 

 

 

 

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