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Article:    Best Software of the Year 2001

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The following is our (long!) list of software favorites released in 2001. Long, because the year was, happily, excellent for children's software.

We've organized what we consider the year's best children's software releases into the following categories: General Learning, which includes edutainment titles that incorporate a variety of learning concepts; Math; Science; Geography; Reading; Typing; Foreign Language; Encyclopedias/Reference; Print Program; Fun & Learning, which includes titles meant mainly for fun, but that require some thinking skills; and Adventure.

Top General Learning Software Picks of 2001

Alphabet by Tivola Interactive is a wonderfully unique program that allows kids to "play" with letters of the alphabet. Best shared with parent and young child, this CD-ROM gets high marks for originality--this is not traditional alphabet learning software, but it makes an exciting addition to any preschool software library. Children discover letters by tapping keys on the keyboard and watching highly imaginative vignettes. [Buy Alphabet at Amazon for approximately $19.95 US]

I Spy Treasure Hunt is based on the exceptional I Spy books, and takes kids on three spectacular treasure hunts. First, young learners collect pieces of a map by solving 20 I Spy riddle screens. Once complete, kids assemble the map, and then follow a pirate's directions in order to find the hidden treasure. The program is exceptionally designed and really quite educational. Appropriate for children approximately 5-9 years old. [Buy I Spy Treasure Hunt at]

Disney's Winnie the Pooh Preschool Deluxe is an updated program for preschoolers featuring an engaging story line that will capture the attention of both kids and their parents. Children follow the bewildered bear through Hundred Acre Wood as he informs all of his friends that they need to prepare for Eeyore's surprise birthday party. Each friend needs some help in the preparations -- Piglet needs help with his pictures, and Kanga needs to make alphabet soup for the party, for example. Children lend a hand, and engage in early-learning activities as they do. Some activities are a little challenging for a typical preschooler to master. However, with a little help from parents or older siblings, kids will learn and develop some important skills. Both lower- and uppercase letters are featured in one activity, and sorting skills are required for another. An all-new activity introduces children to some basic foreign language (French or Spanish) vocabulary. [See full review. Now available in a value-added bundle, Disney Preschool Bundle (Pooh Pre-School, Mickey Pre-School, and Stanley Wild for Sharks), at Amazon]

Reader Rabbit Kindergarten: Bounce Down in Balloon Town! draws kids in with vivid visuals and a story line that kids simply cannot resist. Through the adventure, children strengthen phonics skills, work with patterns, and identify rhymes, amongst other things. [Buy Reader Rabbit Kindergarten at Amazon for approximately $19.99 US]

Reader Rabbit 1st Grade: Capers on Cloud Nine! has a dazzling adventure story line that involves children in an adventure and mission. The educational activities that kids need to complete in order to progress in the story are of excellent quality. Kids, for example, balance a tree's branches with equivalent equations, complete sentences, and work with frames in order to create simple animations. Though the software is very easy to navigate, the educational activities are more advanced then those found in most titles designed for first grade. Parents might need to pull up a chair and give kids a hand, but the experience will be a rewarding one for children. Certainly, the graphics, songs, and story all combine to create a very entertaining game. Kids will want to persevere to the end. In fact, those that do will have worked through all activities and subjects enough to come away from the game with an educational advantage. This title is our top pick for advanced first-graders. [See full review. Buy Reader Rabbit 1st Grade at Amazon for approximately $19.99 US]

Reader Rabbit 2nd Grade: Mis-cheese-ious Dreamship Adventure! is goofy and fun, and challenging too. Reader Rabbit and friends' Dreamship has been ambushed and they finds himself on a cheesy mountain. They are faced with plenty of challenges as they climb the mountain in an attempt to win back his ship from the nasty Pie-rats. Kids practice spelling, build math equations, and follow directions all the way to the top of the mountain, where even more learning challenges await. One of the best activities provides cross-curricular skills practice through a series of puzzles to decode. Here, kids work with telling time, sentence building, and geometric shape recognition. [Buy Reader Rabbit 2nd Grade 2002 at Amazon]

Young learners who enjoy relaxed, slower-paced programs with simple animations will take well to Caillou's Birthday Party. Featuring a pleasing variety of activities that help kids exercise pre-reading, pre-math, and creativity skills, this CD-ROM is unlikely to disappoint Caillou fans. [Buy Calliou - Birthday Party at]

ClueFinders: The Incredible Toy Store Adventure is the latest edutainment title in a truly wonderful series. Children practice a variety of skills from third and fourth grade curriculum as they take part in an exciting adventure. [Buy Cluefinders: Incredible Toy Store... at Amazon}

Top Math Software Picks of 2001

Math Grade 1, Math Grade 2, and Math Grade 3 - SchoolZone are electronic workbook CD-ROMs with high replay value. It is amazing how easy it is to get kids to practice math facts with these colorful and fun programs! Each is packaged with a SchoolZone workbook for off-computer use. [See full review of Math Grade 2. Buy Math 1, Math 2, Math 3 at Amazon for approximately $14.99-19.99 US each]

Mia's Math Adventure: Just in Time offers a fun, though sometimes slow-moving, adventure in which children direct Mia the Mouse on a mission to travel back in time and put a stop to a nasty fire in her grandma's house. The math activities she encounters along the way are multi-level and of high quality, and problem-solving skills are needed. [Buy Mia's Math Adventure: Just In Time at Amazon]

Zoombinis Logical Journey is an updated reissue of a software classic. Though the basic game is the same, this upgrade boasts an interesting enhancement for Windows users--tactile feedback--and a few add-ons. This fabulous adventure stars unusual and endearing little blue creatures called Zoombinis. Players need to lead bands of Zoombinis to freedom. Along the perilous path, challenges in the form of logic puzzles must be overcome. All center around the Zoombinis' four features--hair, eyes, "feet", and noses--which vary from Zoombini to Zoombini. The puzzles are exciting and exercise kids' logic and mathematical thinking without dealing with numbers. The beauty of this title is its equal balance of education and entertainment, with both factors sky-high in value. The puzzles are enormously addictive, and the range in difficulty makes the title appealing to children as young as 7 and as old as 77. This title is a must-have software program. [See full review. Buy Logical Journey of the Zoombinis or the bundle (which includes both Zoombinis Logical Journey and Zoombinis Mountain Rescue, below) Zoombinis Mini 2 Pack ]

Zoombinis Mountain Rescue is a sequel to The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis. It features updated graphics and a whole new set of logic puzzles. The educational value of these puzzles is excellent, and most testers find them more challenging than the ones in the original. All in all, this is a very worthwhile program. [See full review. Buy Zoombinis Mountain Rescue or the bundle (which includes both Zoombinis Mountain Rescue and Zoombinis Logical Journey, above) Zoombinis Mini 2 Pack ]

Top Science Software Picks of 2001

Math and Science Excelerator: Grades 3-6 is a bundle of older titles that have exceptional learning value. The programs allow kids to investigate and truly learn math and science concepts. This package is heavy on education and makes a wonderful home supplement to school learning. The 2 science titles in this 4-CD-ROM set are especially excellent. [Buy Math And Science Excelerator Grades 3-6 at Amazon for approximately $19.99 US]

The Incredible Machine: Even More Contraptions features 250 new puzzles, taking the form of mind-bending contraption challenges. It is an addictive game of trial-and-error as players work through zany puzzles that become progressively more involving as levels advance. With pleasing graphics, and the option to play head-to-head, this title is a must-buy for puzzle lovers ages 9 through adult. It is especially appropriate for kids who love to take things apart and learn how things work. [Buy The Incredible Machine: Even More... at for approximately $29.99 US]

Top Reading Software Pick of 2001

Equally appropriate for kids who need practice with letter identification and letter sounds, and those who are ready to start reading, Reader Rabbit Learn to Read with Phonics features two ways to learn early language arts skills. Kids can either embark on a learn-to-read adventure in which they learn phonics and sight words in a step-by-step manner, or play reading games in a free-play fashion. This is our favorite learn-to-read title. [See full review. Buy Reader Rabbit Learn to Read With Phonics at for approximately $19.99 US]

Top Geography Software Picks of 2001

Where in the World is Carmen SanDiego? is best for kids ages 9-10 and up. This title is a totally updated version and is absolutely fantastic, earning a rating of A+ from Players go globetrotting in pursuit of Carmen Sandiego and her henchmen, who steal various "treasures of knowledge"--rare and expensive books. Kids learn an enormous amount of facts about geographical locations and world cultures as they solve mini-missions. [Buy Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego at Amazon for approximately $19.99 US]

Top Typing Software Pick of 2001

Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing Deluxe 12.0 is the latest edition of a powerful and effective typing tutor software program. It's probably best for children about 10 and up, and perfectly suitable for adults as well. Personalized lessons and games are featured. Excellent both for improving typing accuracy and speed, and for learning to type from the ground up. [Buy Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing 12.0 Deluxe at Amazon for approximately $19.99 US]

Top Foreign Language Software Pick of 2001

French For Dummies is an affordable, valuable, and especially user-friendly foreign language program. It is ideal for casual learners of the language and for use to reinforce lessons learned in a formal French language course. Spanish for Dummies is also available. It's easy to use and appeals to all types of learning styles. Best for people from age 10. [Buy French for Dummies at Amazon for approximately $15-20 US]

Top Encyclopedia/Reference Software Picks of 2001

Microsoft Encarta Reference Suite Deluxe 2002 is the latest edition of an already excellent reference suite, and it is better than ever. Beautiful to look at, filled with multimedia and helpful content, and easy to use, this reference library will help make any family's research efforts easier. The search feature is excellent, with content from all titles in the suite seamlessly integrated together. New streaming live media and easy updates contribute to an exceptional product. For children over approximately 12 years of age, this program will prove invaluable. The dictionary/thesaurus/almanac is superior and contemporary, the "extras" (such as games, curriculum guides, report-writing feature, 3D virtual tours, etc.) are fabulous, and the integration between the handpicked web links and the encyclopedia itself is smooth. [Buy Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2002 at Amazon for approximately $14.95 US]

World Book 2002 Deluxe is a super choice for kids only just beginning to need an encyclopedia. This program is easier to read than Encarta, though it doesn't have as much depth. Kids will find this electronic encyclopedia easy to use and inviting.

Top Print Program Software Pick of 2001

Print Shop Deluxe 11 is an easy to use and versatile general purpose print program that can be enjoyed by both kids and parents alike. Users can make stationery, greeting cards, invitations, party supplies, banners, and even supplies for a small business with this family-friendly program. A fair number of templates are available for the program's many projects. [Buy The Print Shop Deluxe 12.0 at Amazon for approximately $14.95 US]


Top Fun & Learning Software Picks of 2001

Backyard Basketball is the latest entry in the Backyard Sports series of sports sims designed especially for elementary-age kids. Children can play at the level their abilities and preferences demand, be it a simple pick-up game or involved tournament play. The program features an assorted group of animated kids to choose from, and even stars mini versions of pro basketball players. Kids draft players for their team, choose team colors and a team name, and they're off to the courts to shoot hoops! If you want your child to learn the importance of the team and the rules of the game all while he/she has a great time, this is the game to get. Very cute! [Buy Backyard Basketball at Amazon for approximately $19.99 US]

The Hoyle Games line of software is fabulous for family fun on the PC. These well-designed programs offer a variety of games with multiple difficulty levels and settings to appeal to people of almost any age. New to the 2002 editions are PDA-ready games. Multiplayer options also include Internet play, and the games' 3D characters add spunk to the programs:

  • Hoyle Word Games 2002 compiles word game favorites like Crosswords and Word Searches along with more involving strategy games like Wordox. There are nine games altogether, and all are fun and educational too. [ Buy Hoyle Word Games 2002 for approximately $29.99 US at]
  • Hoyle Board Games 2002 features 16 computer board games, including Battling Ships, Checkers, Backgammon, Chess, Snakes & Ladders, and more. [Buy Hoyle Board Games 2002 for approximately $29.99 US at]

Thomas and Friends: Railway Adventures CD-ROM Playset is a very cute program that features a colorful playset designed to fit atop most Windows keyboards. Young children use the playset to steer Thomas along virtual railway tracks onscreen. The playset features a working throttle, switch, and whistle, as well as a large Thomas button. There are four fun activities to play that involve kids with filling "work orders". Be aware that this program is rather challenging, but note that it is more educational than most for-fun programs. [Buy Thomas and Friends Railway Adventures... at Amazon]

Monsters Inc. Scream Team Training is a cleverly humorous and graphically dazzling activity center software program based on the hit movie Monsters Inc. Tons of fun activities that exercise kids' logical and strategic thinking skills are featured. Players become employees of the Monsters, Inc. company and start off in the mail room. Opportunities for advancement at this company, where "We Scare Because We Care" is the motto, are plentiful. In fact, if kids have "what it takes", they can work through all the departments, earning key cards one by one, and moving up the ranks. [Buy Disney/Pixar's Monsters Inc. Scream Team... at Amazon]

Top Adventure Software Picks of 2001 

Nancy Drew Treasure in the Royal Tower combines a challenging problem-solving adventure with puzzles to solve. Children take on the role of junior detective, Nancy Drew, as they explore an old castle, interrogate people, and uncover clues. [Buy Nancy Drew Treasure In The Royal Tower at Amazon]

Spy Fox 3: Operation Ozone is the latest in the excellent spy series adventure games starring the "suave" and entertaining Spy Fox. This game is simply fabulous, with its humor, intrigue, and exciting game-play. Logical thinking is required. [Buy Spy Fox: Operation Ozone at Amazon]














December 31, 2001

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