Santa’s making his list, he’s checking it twice. But have you checked your list to see if your kids are more likely to play with their gifts or the boxes they came in?
If you get the right educational software, they will play with the game. They will learn while they’re having fun. And they may even head back to school with renewed confidence and enthusiasm.
Got a resistant gamester who won’t believe you can have fun while you’re learning? Try Aladdin Mathquest (ages 6-9), which will ask him to save Agrabah from the evil genie Bizzarah by solving a variety of math problems. Robin Williams banters merrily along as the Genie. (Disney, $35-$40.)
Your child also may forget she’s learning when she plays Schoolhouse Rock series. The 1st-4th Grade Math Essentials program for ages 6 to 10 poses a variety of math problems. Right answers release members of a rock band, eager to make it to the concert at the end of the game. (Creative Wonders, $34.95.)
Few preschoolers will turn down an opportunity to read with Big Bird, Grover and Cookie Monster in the toddler edition of Sesame Street Reading is Fun! (Creative Wonders, $34.95.)
And the timing of Ariel’s Story Studio (Disney, $35), a make-your-own-storybook program, should prove a hit for fans age 6 and up of “The Little Mermaid,” being re-released this month.
Parents concerned with reading and math skills should check out Let’s Go Read! An Island Adventure (Edmark, $44.95). It blends phonics and whole language teaching, and it comes equipped with a hat and microphone attachment so your 4- to 6-year-old can read to the computer. And yes, the computer responds.
The always reliable Knowledge Adventure has expanded its signature curriculum-based software to emphasize reading in Jumpstart First Grade Reading and math in Jumpstart First Grade and Second Grade Math ($30 each).
The best educational buy for your money, though, remains the increasingly popular curriculum-based software in which a single program will teach your child what he should know in a given year.
If you’re ready for the excellent Jumpstart Kindergarten ($30), get this year’s revised version. It includes a new interactive technology that helps a child struggling with a concept.
The similarly dependable Learning Company ventures into the curriculum-based field with a very pleasant, easy-to-digest Reader Rabbit’s Toddler, Preschool and Kindergarten, each of which can be purchased for the list price of $29.95 or as little as $9.99 with rebates.
Davidson’s Fisher Price line also offers a fine new Ready for School 1st Grade ($30) as a follow-up to its toddler, preschool and kindergarten programs.
Microsoft makes a quantum leap into this field with the appealing My Personal Tutor ($54.95), a four-CD set that uses its own new TutorAssist technology to customize instruction for preschoolers through first graders.
Creative Wonders weighs in with Madeline’s Preschool & Kindergarten and Madeline’s 1st & 2nd Grade ($34.95 each), charmers for girls in general and Madeline fans in particular.
The most promising newcomer award goes to Big Thinker Kindergarten and Big Thinker First Grade (Humongous Entertainment, $29.95 each). Humongous puts terrific graphics and humor into the characters of Ben and Becky Brightly, whose bodies metamorphose into clocks and rulers as they teach time and measurement skills.
Also keep an eye out for Jumpstart Spanish ($30), an excellent supplement to the standard curriculum fare. It will have your 3- to 6-year-old saying, “Uno, dos, tres” in one, two, three (and with a toggle switch, vice versa).
Similarly, Thinkin’ Science First and Second Grades (Edmark, $29.95) explores territory in depth that many schools skirt.
Children who like to be read to may enjoy Broderbund’s new, moderately interactive “The Cat in the Hat” ($35), “Arthur’s Birthday” ($30) or the revised “Just Grandma and Me” ($29.95). Each comes with a book.
Checkers and chess are another good bet. Mario’s Fundamentals (Brainstorm, $20) offers checkers, backgammon, go fish and other games.
And the cartoon-like Chess Mates ($35) has a whiz of a wizard, Digby, to guide budding Bobby Fishers through 10 levels of chess play, with strategy tips along the way.
Finally, the holidays are the best time to get bargains on software classics as companies bundle up and combine older titles for one low price.