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Edutaining Kids Selects the Best Children's Software of 2006

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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

Gary Gadget: Building Cars

Here's a game that truly requires children to put on their thinking caps. In Gary Gadget Building Cars, children build cars out of gadgets and "thing-a-ma-bobs". Gary collects all sorts of gadgets and decides to build a car "to see what's at the end of the road". There's plenty at the end of the road--an auto show, neighbors needing help and offering Gary more parts, gas stations, and the like.

Children initially collect items from Gary's junk piles on his lawn, and then build a car part by part from the parts. The pickings are slim at the outset, but once players have built a road-worthy car, they are able to explore the neighborhood and earn new parts. If they attempt to drive an unfinished car, they will learn why they can't yet drive ("Without an engine, we're not going to get very far!", Gary comments). Essentially, kids continue to create and then test their cars. They discover missions as they drive around the neighborhood--find Freddy's dog, rescue Mia's cat from a tree, and so forth.

Why do we recommend this title? This game is unique in that children truly experiment as they play. Through trial and error, as well as solid thinking skills, they make their way through the game. Children need to figure out which combinations of parts will work for various missions and driving feats. For families looking for a unique title, this one is sure to delight. It's nothing like the standard activity centers or adventure learning games that are commonly produced.

Who is it for? Best for ages 6+. Younger players will need some help to begin with--the software does some hand-holding, but won't tell you exactly what to do.

Our rating of the game: A

See our full review of the program.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Gary Gadget: Building Cars (Win/Mac) at - affiliate link*]


Miss Spider's Scavenger Hunt

This cute, activity-packed game features multi-level games that encourage children to explore early learning (logic, math) concepts.

Why do we recommend this title? This CD-ROM is engaging, educational, and filled with rich content. Its replay value is stronger than most early learning titles.

Who is it for? The program is best for children ages 4-6.

Our rating: A

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: (paid link) Miss Spider Scavenger Hunt]

Microsoft Encarta Premium 2007

This latest edition of an excellent reference software suite is not only beautiful to look at, it's filled with multimedia and helpful content and easy to use. This reference library—including an electronic encyclopedia, atlas, dictionary, thesaurus, and more—will help make any family's research efforts easier. It makes a fabulous gift for the family! The search feature is excellent, with content from all titles in the suite seamlessly integrated together. Streaming live media and easy updates contribute to an exceptional  product. With Encarta Kids added to the product, children younger than 12 can enjoy the encyclopedia as well. The dictionary/thesaurus/almanac is contemporary, the "extras" (such as games, curriculum guides, report-writing feature, 3D virtual tours, and the Discovery Channel content, etc.) are fabulous, and the integration between the handpicked web links and the encyclopedia itself is smooth. Of course, all of the features that won our hearts in previous versions make Encarta Premium 2007 a must-own family software program. CD-ROMs and a DVD-ROM are included in the same package.

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.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy (paid link): Microsoft Encarta Premium 2007 at]

Our rating of the software: A+ 


Nancy Drew: Danger by Design

The Nancy Drew series of software is revered and long-standing. This fourteenth title features Minette, a fashion designer whose investors are concerned about her erratic behavior. Kids play as Nancy Drew and investigate a maze of underground catacombs, cafes, ancient bunkers, and abandoned metro tunnels to explore and find clues.

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

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy - paid link: Nancy Drew: Danger by Design]


Dora the Explorer: World Adventure!

Kids join Dora and Swiper in an adventure around the world--to France, Tanzania, Russia, and China--on a search to retrieve friendship bracelets. A variety of activities are presented in this easy-to-play, engaging software game for young fans of the television show.

Why do we recommend this title? Multiple levels of challenge, a variety and satisfying number of activities, and good game options set this title apart.

Who is it for? Best for children ages 3-5.

Our Rating: A

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: (affiliate link) Dora the Explorer: Dora's World Adventures]

Strawberry Shortcake: Her Berry Best Friends

Kids choose activities to play in Strawberry Land, earning items for Strawberry Shortcake's new scrapbook as they do. Players choose a level of difficulty as they enter each activity.

Why do we recommend this title? This game is brimming with multi-level activities appropriate for Strawberry Shortcake fans. It boasts a very encouraging format. Children receive positive feedback whether they've successfully completed an activity or not. For example, when a cookie failed to match the given design, kids were told that it "tastes good anyway". Children are never penalized for mistakes--if they want to earn the token, they simply need to repeat the activity. A help icon would have been appreciated, however, because children didn't always listen to the instructions and were occasionally at a loss. They needed to exit the activity and then come back in order to hear the instructions repeated. Although the educational content is not striking, the game is busy and fun, offering kids plenty to do.

Who is it for? Best for children ages 4-5.

Our Rating: A-

See our full review of the program.

[To buy (affiliate link): Strawberry Shortcake: Her Best Berry Friends]


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