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Article:    Back to School 2004 

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Back to school time can be exciting for some kids, nerve-wracking for others, but for most kids it's a little bit of both. For families, "busy" is the best adjective to describe this time of year. Most families struggle to strike a balance between play time and learning time for their kids once they're back in school, and that is where good children's software and learning aids can come to the rescue. We've hand-picked some curriculum-based titles that will help ease children into practicing school skills without overwhelming them.  


~~Recommended Back to School Software~~

Reference Library for the Family

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]


Early Math

Math Missions Grades K-2: The Race to Spectacle City Arcade is a fantastic new 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.


Math Missions Grades 3-5: The Amazing Arcade Adventure is another title in the new Math Missions series.  Excellent program.

What does it do? Children attempt to rebuild a city by helping out store clerks who are not very adept at math. Kids earn moneyby 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.


The 3 R's

A nice software bundle of previously released titles is especially appropriate for reviewing second grade skills in reading and math, and offers a bit of history too. JumpStart 1st-3rd Grade Learning Playground includes 3 titles that will have kids learning as they play.

What does it do? The three titles included in the bundle are: JumpStart Reading (originally for second grade), which is an excellent title for vocabulary, reading comprehension, and spelling practice in an adventure-style setting; JumpStart Math (originally for second grade) which also features an adventure setting and a range of skill-building activities; and JumpStart Explorers is a fun game that has kids transported back in time to learn a bit of history and interesting facts about world cultures.

Why do we recommend this title? Kids work towards goals in adventure settings and they drill basic skills as they play. Although the titles are older ones, they have quite a bit of appeal.  

Who is it for? Best for children coming out of second grade, simply because it will help reinforce and review concepts they likely encountered in the school year.

See our review of the game here.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: JumpStart 1st-3rd Grade Learning... at]


Math, Science, and Logic

Achieve! Math & Science Grades 1-3 bundles a number of titles together to create one very educational package for children on the younger end of the suggested age group.

cover What does it do? Two math titles, Mighty Math Carnival Countdown and Mighty Math Zoo Zillions, offer a range of unique activities that exercise children's early math skills. Children learn money math, 3D geometry, addition, subtraction, place value, and more with these titles. Sammy's Science House offers a nice exploration of early science concepts like weather, animals, and seasons. The fourth title, Thinkin' Things Fripple Town is a wonderful exercise in both art and logic. 

Why do we recommend this title? Children explore math and science concepts in ways that stretch their thinking and offer them a chance to truly understand the concepts, rather than learning only by rote.  

Who is it for? Best for first and second graders who prefer open-ended games to fast-paced arcade or adventure programs.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Achieve! Math & Science Grades 1-3 at]


Math & Science

Math & Science Excelerator Grades 3-6 bundles 4 excellent software programs: two Geosafari CD-ROMs for math, and two Mango Plumo titles for science. Lots of skills practice and concepts to learn.

cover What does it do? The two math titles are based on the Geosafari Knowledge Pad electronic toy. These programs offer math quizzes that feature bright graphics and a scoring format. Decimals, percentages, number lines, fractions, multiplication, and division are the games' focus. The Mango Plumo titles star a perky little bird and feature adventure formats with creative and unique science lessons about weather and space.

Why do we recommend this title? Lots of learning and variety is packed into this bundle. The science lessons are quite unique and offer useful information. The math quizzes are actually quite fun to complete and feature lots of variety. 

Who is it for? Best for children at a third to fifth grade level.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Educator's Choice Math and Science... at]

Brushing up on Foreign Languages

An all-new title in the Mia series, Mia The Kidnap Caper offers both problem-solving exercises and practice with either French or Spanish (both languages are found in the game). 

What does it do? Children receive plenty of vocabulary practice in the selected foreign language (French or Spanish). As they solve a linear adventure, they participate in activities that allow them to brush up on foreign language words and phrases (including such things as food items, professions, numbers, and more. 

Why do we recommend this title? The graphics are rich and children are easily transported into the exciting world of Mia the mouse and her interesting friends.  

Who is it for? Best for children who have the follow-through and drive to solve a mystery. Best for children who are already acquainted with the French or Spanish languages and who could benefit from extra practice and reinforcement.


Offering a systematic approach to learning to read as well as a free-play option, Reader Rabbit Learn to Read with Phonics is an excellent program that is our top choice for practicing early reading skills. 

coverWhat does it do? In the adventure mode, children travel from one letter land to the next. Each explores the sound of a featured letter of the alphabet and contains basic games that reinforce phonics as well as introduce sight words. At the end of each letter land, a storybook that incorporates the new sounds and words is earned. These books are interactive and rather fun, and kids can record their own voices and play back their narration. The program can be played in an open-ended fashion as well. Children can access the program's games, an ABC screen, songs, and storybooks as they please.

Why do we recommend this title? This title has shown us the most consistent results of all the early learn-to-read software programs. Parents who work with their kids and help motivate them will appreciate Reader Rabbit Learn to Read with Phonics.

Who is it for? Best for children working at a Kindergarten level of phonics awareness.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Reader Rabbit Learn to Read With Phonics or Reader Rabbit Learn to Read Phonics Pre Kindergarten at]













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August 2004

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