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Article:    Summer Time Fun & Learning with Software 



Not many children will want to hit the workbooks during summer vacation. Happily, they can still learn as they play with "edutaining" software programs. We've selected some outstanding programs that are especially appropriate for reviewing concepts learned during the school year, and for getting a head start on the school year to come!

Here they are...our choices for the best summer "fun and learning" software:

Sharpen Kids Early Reading Skills

This software is 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]


Logical Thinking

Chess is certainly a brainy game, but it can also be great fun. If you are interested in getting your kids interested in the game, Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster will motivate children to learn the rules of the game and offer them valuable interactive lessons and tips at the same time.  

What does it do? Children progress through a series of mini-games that help them get acquainted with the basic rules of the game of chess. Later, they "work out" at the gym...the Intelligym, where they participate in interactive chess lessons. Eventually, they get to play complete games. Children gradually build logical thinking skills as they learn to strategize and plan ahead.

Why do we recommend this title? This is a very unique program for a few reasons: rather than enduring dry lessons about the game of chess, kids take part in a charming animated adventure story (the goal is to beat the dastardly King Black in a chess "duel"), the games and mini-games are clever, and the game progresses in a logical, organized fashion so that kids aren't expected to learn too much at once.  

Who is it for? Children ages 8-9 through 12. The game is, at times, slow-moving--some children might become impatient with the pace, especially those who already know the rules of the game.

See our review of the game here.

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


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]


Logical Thinking

coverThe I Spy series of CD-ROMs simply gets better and better. The latest 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]



Math Missions Grades 3-5: The Amazing Arcade Adventure 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]


Problem Solving for Older Kids

coverThe Incredible Machine Even More Contraptions is a classic software game that is now offered in Hoyle Puzzle Games 2003

What does it do? 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. This game is now available in Hoyle Puzzle Games 2003, along with a wide assortment of fun puzzles, such as word games, tiles, and arcade-style solitaire.

Why do we recommend this title? 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 makes an extra special gift for all those kids (and adults) who love to tinker.

Who is it for? Children ages 9 through adult, especially those who like to work their brains and solve visual problems.

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: Hoyle Puzzle Games 2003 at]













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