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Elmo's Preschool 30th Anniversary Edition

This engaging CD-ROM features 15 activities set in Elmo's playground. There's a number and counting area, a letter game area, an easel for experimenting with shapes and colors, and a music room. One of our testers' favorite activities takes place in the Face Treehouse where kids must create faces that match feelings. In all of these play areas, there are directed activities, as well as more open-ended, exploratory options. All through this program, social skills are promoted, for instance, the characters talk about sharing and children are encouraged to do nice things for Elmo. (This is one of the few programs that makes a conscious effort to promote pro social behavior.) The program is fairly easy to use and was well-liked by testers. Also on the CD is Elmo's Print Project Center that comes with over 30 printable pages of puzzles, games, coloring book pages, and toys to assemble. Teaches: early math, early reading, colors, shapes Age Range: 2, 3, 4, 5 Copyright 2000 Children's Software Revue

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Thomas and Friends Trouble on the Track

The brightly structured world of Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends will appeal to the orderly side of preschoolers as they help rescue a derailed engine, put it back on the tracks, spiff it up, and get it back to work. If your older toddler glows when told he or she is helpful or a hard worker, this CD-ROM will put them in junior train-engineer heaven.

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Disney's Mickey Preschool

You can practically smell the burger grease and freshly hung laundry at this funky little diner that Mickey and Minnie Mouse visit when their gas tank falls below "E." As a banjo plunks out a slow tune in the background, Mickey pulls up a chair and sits outside with Pluto to enjoy the sunshine. No agenda here. Instead of explaining what kids should do next, Mickey scratches Pluto and occasionally glances toward the cursor. This is the CD-ROM equivalent of a deliciously lazy summer day with nothin' urgent to do. Kids play and learn at their own pace, by nosing around and figuring things out.

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Sesame Street Toddler

This two CD-ROM collection includes characters, songs, games, and activities to promote fun learning. The first disc focuses on the early learning essentials of letters and numbers, while Elmo's Art Workshop on disc two nurtures creative self-expression. LearningBuddies technology automatically tailors each activity to suit your child's learning level, providing friendly support and encouragement every step of the way.

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JumpStart Kindergarten Deluxe 2 CD Set

Imagine Mr. Rogers as a rabbit, with the sweater and everything. Now put him in an animated country school, full of hidden surprises and fourteen playful learning activities, all backed up with a smart report card system. This third revision of JumpStart Kindergarten provides an excellent assortment of 14 different activities that deliver typical kindergarten curriculum. Topics include drawing and coloring, letters (matching, letter sounds, upper/lower case), sorting by size, shape and color, telling time to the hour, alphabet order and sentence structure. When it comes to tracking progress, this program is among the best available. In the background, a "report card" keeps detailed records reporting on the number of plays and percent correct. These features are very handy for classroom use. There are three major design flaws to note. The introductions are too long, underestimating children's abilities to get started on their own. Missing are ongoing progress reports geared toward children, telling them how much longer they must play to earn a star. Finally, the program's direct link to the JumpStart web site (just click on a star in the corner of the screen) led us to an episode of SouthPark, although this problem has apparently been fixed. Included in the box is a bonus CD called JumpStart Around the World, a rather poorly designed geography program. It can be played as a stand alone game or can serve as an incentive for the main program- the more kids accomplish there, the more trips they can take. Even with the weak parts of the package, JumpStart Kindergarten is as good as it ever was, and provides a wide range of well-designed, educational and entertaining activities.

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Franklin the Turtle: Goes to School

Designed to make learning fun, Franklin the Turtle Goes to School is a set of two CD-ROMs filled with games and activities that don't require any reading, making it perfect for younger players. Concentration and listening skills are crucial, however, as all instruction is provided verbally.

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Dr. Seuss Kindergarten

In the small town of Seussville, Gerald McGrew has just built a new zoo. Of course, not just any old animals will live there--only the most exotic creatures--Star-bellied Sneetches, Barbaloots, and Birthday Pets to name a few. Children help Gerald fill his zoo by playing eight three-level reading and math games. There's a game that teaches alphabet order and an activity that introduces sight words and phonics by asking kids to fill in the missing letters. There are matching and rhyming games and counting activities set in the beloved Truffula Trees of the Lorax--remember him? Kids love measuring various creatures donning different-sized hats or umbrellas. As they win the games, children are rewarded with creatures for the zoo, and once they've collected all eight sets of animals, the zoo has its grand opening. Testers all enjoyed playing this program and loved the Seussian rhymes, the 50 Seuss characters and the five original songs. Parents appreciated the three levels of skills presented in each activity and found that the zoo creature collecting theme was strong enough to hook even some older siblings. Complaints are few. There are some animations you can't click through, and the inability to print is a minor disappointment. It is never clear just how many times kids have to play each game in order to be awarded the creature. Despite these criticisms, however, the program was well liked by our testers, and gets high scores in both educational and entertainment value.

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Arthur's Preschool

As ladybugs cha-cha across the bottom of the screen, and the always-game Francine whacks balls into the outfield, kids will feel like part of Arthur's gang of pals as they explore the world of Arthur's Preschool. The feeling is reinforced, thanks to a personalization feature that causes Arthur to name players by name and reference things such as their favorite color or animal throughout the program. Be forewarned: if your child has an unusual name, Arthur may not be able to pronounce it. He discreetly ignored the name Rosalind in our trials. Each activity is based around a character from the Arthur television show. Kids can help Brain build a robot by handing him boxes containing the letters he asks for. They can help Muffy design a Mount Rushmore-like sculpture of her snooty family by choosing photos whose faces match the emotion she's looking for. Or they can pick up and count the baseballs Francine hits at batting practice. There are eight activities in all. Three levels of difficulty and Arthur's helpful suggestions to up the level when play becomes too easy ensure that kids won't get bored. Also, Arthur patiently instructs kids on how to use the mouse and gives a "how-to" demonstration whenever a new player encounters a game for the first time. There's a second CD-ROM in the boxed set that has a music-making station, a place to make greeting cards, and printable activities--all rather second fiddle compared to hanging out with Arthur and his buddies. We've never been able to figure out exactly what kind of bespectacled, round-eared, sincere animal Arthur is, but we no longer care, since we've discovered he's a wonderful and benevolent early-learning coach for preschoolers. (Ages 3 to 5) --Anne Erickson

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Curious George Pre-Kindergarten ABCs

Discovering the alphabet is one charming accident after another with Curious George as your guide. The tiny brown monkey with the wide smile sneaks onto a skywriting plane, upsets the post card stand at the zoo, and topples a boy's toys into the lake, but the always-resourceful Man in the Yellow Hat turns each mishap into an alphabet adventure. The prevailing plucky optimism of the Curious George books reigns supreme here.

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LEGO Alpha Team

Set in a gripping world of espionage and futuristic gadgetry, LEGO Alpha Team combines the relentless excitement of a James Bond flick with the action and suspense of Mission: Impossible. Following traditional LEGO building values, children construct, modify, and manipulate wacky contraptions that help them maneuver through various levels of obstacle courses and overcome challenges as they solve each mission.

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