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Edutaining Kids Selects the Best Children's Software of 2004

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Note: The 2005 Year's Best Children's Software list will be published mid-November.

Best Children's Software 2004

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: 

Reference Language Arts
Math Music
Logic Early Learning
Fun & Games

 

 

Reference Software - Encyclopedia

 

 

Encarta Reference Library 2005

coverNow there's even more reason to own an Encarta Reference Library. The 2005 edition includes Encarta Kids, designed to meet the research needs of elementary-age children. Of course, all of the features that won our hearts in previous versions make Encarta Reference Library 2005 Premium a must-own family software program. Translation dictionaries, homework helpers, an interactive atlas, video content from the Discovery Channel, exceptional multimedia, dictionary and thesaurus, hand-picked editors' links, and more.  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 both 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 7 and up. Adults will turn to this reference suite as well.

See our full review.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Microsoft Encarta Reference Library Premium 2005 CD (CD-ROM set) or Encarta Reference Library 2004 DVD at Amazon.com]

Our rating of the software: A+ 

 

 

 

World Book EncyclopediaWorld Book 2005 

Best for encyclopedia beginners, World Book 2005 streamlines information for young researchers, providing them just 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: WorldBook Encyclopedia 2005 (2 CD Set) or last year's edition, World Book Encyclopedia 2004 Edition]

 

 

 

 

Language Arts - Reading Software

 

 

Clifford Reading Pack

This encouraging title advances in challenge slowly, making it ideal for children just learning to work with small words. Previously packaged as Clifford Phonics, Clifford Reading Pack combines the excellent CD-ROM with a set of 6 Clifford books for practice away from the computer.

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.]

 

 

Best Math Software Games

 

The Number Devil

This unusual 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: The Number Devil at Amazon.com]

 

 

Best Music Software for Kids

 


Music Ace Deluxe

this valuable program is designed for beginning music students. Ideal as a complement to music lessons, the program takes children through a series of lessons that focus on the fundamentals—those concepts that are essential to understanding—of music learning.

What does it do? Maestro Max, a friendly animated conductor, is children’s guide through the lessons and games of the program. There are 36 lessons in Music Ace Deluxe, each of which is supported by a game that reinforces and tests skills learned in the lesson. The lessons are interactive and straightforward, providing children clear, gradual instruction. With its visual format, children come away from each lesson with a solid understanding of the concept introduced—whether it’s the basic configuration of the Grand Staff or the step patterns of a scale. 

Why do we recommend this title? The educational content of the program is well-structured and sound. Children move through lessons at a gradual pace as they learn and develop note reading skills, ear training, and musical terminology. Kids learn about scales, rhythm, melody, harmony, key signatures, time signatures, and more. Music Ace Deluxe is a satisfying and helpful learning tool that will enrich any child's understanding of, and appreciation for, music. Exceptional!

Who is it for? Best for children ages 7 and up with an interest in music or as a supplement to music lessons.

Our Rating: A

See our full review of the program.

[To buy: Music Ace Deluxe]

 

 

Best Logic Software Games

 

 

Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster 2: Chess in the Black Castle

If you're looking for a chess program that encourages a stronger 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 2 uses animation and a story line to capture children's interest in the game. This title follows the first in the series, Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster, and is best as a follow-up to the first game. However, children who already know some of the basics of chess will benefit from the program.

What does it do? This educational software game is fun, featuring 21 arcade-style mini games that reinforce chess concepts introduced in the story line. Kids need to rescue Chesster from King Black's Castle. Players learn chess concepts—from basic to advanced—through the game's intelligible and engaging format. Such chess concepts as pinning, delivering check, piece values, protecting, openings, chess notations, and more, are introduced and reinforced through tutorials, exercises, and mini-games. 

Why do we recommend this title? Unique and creative games that help kids build thinking skills are featured in this program. The program is a tad slow-moving at times, but its system is quite effective and the story very charming. 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 8-12 who already know the basic rules of chess, but who want to refine and develop their skills.

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 2: Chess in the Black Castle at Amazon.com]

 

 

I Spy Spooky Mansion Deluxe

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 Spooky Mansion Deluxe is no exception. This is a revamped product, packaged as a deluxe version, with two new adventures added to the game.  

What does it do? Children solve picture riddles, I Spy-style, as they try to make their way out of a haunted mansion.

Why do we recommend this title? This CD-ROM 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 fair because of the fact that there are three levels to the game, although once all levels are completed, kids are unlikely to return to the game. Completing the game the first time takes a good hour or more 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 this title 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: Spooky Mansion Deluxe at Amazon.com]

 

 

 

 

coverLeapster Kindergarten is an educational game cartridge for the Leapster. If you don't already own the Leapster Multimedia Learning System (a portable game unit for young children), you might seriously consider purchasing it. Leapster Kindergarten is just one of many currently available (with many more games in the works including Reader Rabbit) educational games for the Leapster.

What does it do? Children interact with the game using the arrow keys, attached special pen, and by touching the Leapster screen. Kids play multilevel educational activities that gently challenge them in logical thinking, basic phonics, math, and more.

Why do we recommend this title? The portability of the Leapster is a huge draw. The game is truly fun and gently challenging, offering children to learn and play "on the go". 

Who is it for? Children who are getting ready for Kindergarten through to children in the midst of Kindergarten (ages 4-6).

Our Rating: A+

See our full review of this Leapster software here

For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Leapster Software: Kindergarten

 

 

 

Didi & Ditto Kindergarten is a curriculum-based title by the makers of the excellent Mia software titles.

What does it do? Children collect fruits and vegetables for a vegetarian wolf by playing activities that exercise skills in phonics, math, music, and art. Kids can choose to play along with a girl or boy beaver. Colorful worlds and charming characters are featured. 

Why do we recommend this title? The unique graphics draw children in, effectively promising something different than the usual software fare for this age group. The educational challenges are multi-level. 

Who is it for? The program is a little too sophisticated for younger children in the suggested age group. Best for older Kindergarteners or advanced, software-savvy kids.

Our Rating: A-

See our full review of this software.

For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Didi & Ditto: Kindergarten

 

Best Software Games

 

 

Nancy Drew The Secret of Shadow Ranch

Mystery number ten in the exceptional Nancy Drew software game series, Nancy Drew: The Secret of Shadow Ranch, is an all-new story with some new features, and essentially another satisfying game. Although the atmosphere is a little less edgy, the game nevertheless draws kids into a mystery that requires brains to solve and doesn't rely on violence or other sensationalism to appeal to kids.

Why do we recommend this title? 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!

Who is this game for? Best for kids who are up to the challenge of a mystery adventure, approximately ages 11 and up. 

Our Rating: A

See our full review of the game

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Nancy Drew - The Secret of Shadow Ranch at Amazon.com]

 

 

Zoo Tycoon 2

We love Microsoft's Zoo Tycoon series, and this latest edition features improvements that enhance gameplay, not to mention offer an exciting visual experience for players. With Zoo Tycoon 2, players can build, manage, and maintain their very own zoo in 3D, complete with realistic animals that act like their real-world counterparts, exhibits, and more.  

Why do we recommend this title? Success comes to players when they research specific animals, manage their funds effectively, hire and monitor staff, and build thriving as well as eye-pleasing exhibits. These factors add tremendous educational value to the fun. New to this edition is a Zoo Guest mode which allows players to step into the zoo they've created and experience it first-hand as a guest. New ways to build make it easier for players to create exciting exhibits, random and dynamic challenges enrich gameplay, and free downloadable content adds variety. There is now an option that is excellent for younger players--kids can choose to play "freeform", which offers unlimited funds and immediately-available animals, scenery, and buildings. This 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. Although not explicitly educational, this program is excellent for developing thinking skills. 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. 

This CD-ROM strikes an excellent balance between fun and learning. 

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

Our Rating: A+

See our full review of the game


[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Zoo Tycoon 2 with Bonus Animal Pen (Monkey or Tiger) at Amazon.com]

 

SpongeBob Squarepants Typing

This title is excellent for encouraging children to learn proper typing technique, with the lure of a superstar in children's animation, SpongeBob Squarepants. 3D graphics and step-by-step guides demonstrate proper finger placement, home row technique, and other lessons.

Why do we recommend this title? 
Kids generally need encouragement to learn proper typing technique, and the fact that the program includes phrases relevant to the cartoon motivates children to want to play. 

Who is it for? Children ages 7-up.

Our Rating: A-


[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Spongebob Square Pants Typing at Amazon.com]

 

 

The Incredibles: When Danger Calls

This version of The Incredibles is an activity center rather than the video game. It features 10 games, some with educational value. Each game features the film's characters, settings, and elements from the story line.

Why do we recommend this title? 
Although not explicitly educational, this program offers some fun games that children enjoy.

Who is it for? Children ages 6-9.

Our Rating: A-


[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: The Incredibles: When Danger Calls at Amazon.com]

 

 

Dora the Explorer: Fairytale Adventures

Dora needs to become a princess in order to awaken sleeping Boots, who is under a witch's spell. Children choose a difficulty level and either play the game in adventure mode (set to a story line) or go directly to play the activities.

Why do we recommend this title? 
Children develop skills such as color, shape, and number recognition through the game's puzzles and activities. Although not specifically designed to teach Spanish, Dora speaks some Spanish as kids play. This is a natural approach to encouraging the development of a positive attitude towards second-language acquisition. 

Who is it for? Preschoolers, whether they are fans of the show or not.

Our Rating: A

See our full review of the game


[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Dora the Explorer: Fairytale Adventures PC Play Pack at Amazon.com]

 

 

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December 2004
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