Children Can Learn How to Play It Safe

jinny@choosingchildrenssoftware.com

"Peter, don't touch that outlet!"

"Ashley, don't play with matches!"

"Katie, stay away from the edge of the pool."

As parents, we try to keep our children safe by anticipating situations that pose a threat and talking to our kids about how to avoid the danger. But it's hard to envision all the potential situations.

A new software title, "What's the Safest Thing to Do?" helps parents teach children how to avoid danger by compiling 35 potentially threatening scenarios that children figure out themselves.

The brainchild of safety expert Paula Geonie, the founder of the award-winning Playing It Safe program, "What's the Safest Thing to Do?" uses an adorable cast of characters known as the Safety Tots, animated children of diverse races and genders.

Kids play with the Safety Tots by participating in a series of animated scenarios narrated by a friendly butterfly named Betsy. As the Safety Tots encounter a dangerous situation, players can click around to interact with the environment. Betsy the Butterfly then asks children, "What is the safest thing to do?" and offers children four choices.

Here is a sampling of the scenarios:

* A little girl is outside playing when she discovers a wire has come down off a power pole. The player is asked whether the girl should: help by moving the wire, get a little closer to the wire to see what happens, jump over it and run into the house to tell an adult or get away from it immediately and tell the adult who takes care of her. The answer is to get away immediately and summon help.

* A child finds a syringe on the ground. The player is asked whether the child should pick it up and throw it in the garbage, pick it up and show it to an adult, don't touch it but tell friends about it so that they can all decide what to do or don't touch the syringe but tell an adult about it right away. The answer is to leave the syringe where it is and tell an adult.

The program also deals with issues such as inappropriate touching, stranger awareness, poisons and much more.

Music accompanies each scenario, and the Safety Tots are very charming.

Each situation is handled carefully, and children are told which answer is correct and why. Frequently, the software suggests that a parent further explain a concept.

The software manages to be nonthreatening because it presents the situations in a straightforward manner and talks to children in a way they can understand. Children can easily identify with the Safety Tots because they are curious kids who respond as kids would.

The software offers two methods of navigation: one for children in which the scenarios appear one after another and one for adults that allows them to pick and choose which scenario to present.

Another way to help children learn how to avoid danger is to explore Web sites together. Several Internet sites focus on teaching children how to remain safe. Safety City, at http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/kids, administers an online traffic Safety Challenge test, which is scored immediately. The test covers bicycle safety, school bus safety, seat belt safety, use of child seats and air bags.

For interactive games on the Internet, head to Kidde's Home Safety Education Center, at http://www.kiddesafety.com/kiddesafety. The site offers interactive games by age categories. A particularly helpful activity, called Protect Your Home, is found under the 10-to-11-year-old category.

In Protect Your Home, children use a drag-and-drop menu to create the floor plan for their home and then place all relevant appliances. The game then challenges kids to place smoke alarms, fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide alarms in the appropriate places. Make sure to have children discuss their choices with you after they finish the simulation.

Jinny Gudmundsen is editor of Choosing Children's Software magazine.

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The Skinny

"What's the Safest Thing to Do?"

Price: $25

Ages: 4 to 8

Platform: PC

System requirements: Pentium processor with 32 MB of RAM

Publisher: SafetyTots International

The good: 35 scenarios that present dangerous situations for kids

The bad: Could be more interactive

Bottom line: A wonderful resource to help teach children how to stay safe

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