M. C. Ware
Requirements: Apple II-series with at least 48K RAM and a disk drive, or a Commodore 64 with a disk drive.
Many computer programs targeted at preschoolers have been disappointing: They either teach alphabet letters or numbers, or merely "do something" for each keypress.
But Dinosaurs is different. It's a set of educational games designed for children 2½ to 5 years old which is significantly more interesting than many earlier programs.
Dinosaurs comes in a slipcase containing a disk, an instruction booklet for parents, descriptions of the games, some suggestions for additional (noncomputer) activities for the children, and primary-level reading material about dinosaurs.
When Katherine, my tester, arrived, I had the disk booted and the colorful title screen showing on the monitor. Katherine appeared to enjoy the title page, which is complete with a large dinosaur. I advanced to the menu screen by pressing RETURN. The five choices are arranged by difficulty, and each is represented on the menu by a picture indicating what the game is about.
In the first game, there are five dinosaurs across the top of the screen and a simple scene (trees, land) below them. One dinosaur then appears in the bottom scene and rises to an area just below the silhouettes. The child's task is to line up the dinosaur with the matching picture (using left and right arrow keys) and then press RETURN.
When all five dinosaurs have been matched, dinosaurs parade across the bottom of the screen, accompanied by unusual music. If uninterrupted, the same game begins again. If you don't want the same game, a keypress returns you to the menu. To save time, I made all the menu selections in my trial with Katherine.
We went immediately to the second game (which became Katherine's favorite). In this one, the child must distinguish herbivores from carnivores. The screen shows a pile of bones and a pile of plants. When a dinosaur appears, the child must move it one step to the right (for bones) or one step to the left (for plants), then press RETURN. If the child selects correctly, the dinosaur gets a bite of dinner. This game has the best animation of all the games in the package.
Matching The Habitats
The third game reveals a scene with land, water, and air. After a dinosaur appears, the goal is to move it to its proper habitat. To move a dinosaur to another setting (that is, air for the pteranodon and water for the ichthyosaurus and brontosaurus), you press the left and right arrow keys. After each correct answer, the dinosaur briefly moves back and forth in its environment.
However, there are two problems with this game. First, the dinosaur originally appears on land, but the scene looks more like an underground tunnel. In fact, Katherine often said "underground" when I asked her where something lived. Second, the creatures have all been designed facing to the right. They parade from left to right, in part to reinforce the child's reading patterns, but any child knows that when something swims or flies back and forth, it turns rather than just going forward and backing up.
The fourth game, though touted as more complex, does not actually seem so-at least not without adult intervention. Several rotating windows at the top of the screen randomly reveal dinosaurs (slot machinestyle) until each window stops. There will be one, two, or three windows with matching dinosaurs. A scene appears at the bottom, showing an opening to a cave or tunnel. The opening shows a random parade of dinosaurs moving by, one at a time. When the child sees a match, he or she is supposed to press the RETURN key. Then the dinosaur hops up and appears at the top of the screen. The child continues until all the windows are full. Then another parade of dinosaurs marches by as a reward.
With adult intervention, the child could be encouraged to count the windows, thus reveal ing how many matching dinosaurs are needed. When all are matched, the child could be asked to count them all, or count the pairs. Without such assistance, however, this is not significantly different from the first game.
The last game also involves trial and error, unless the child already knows something about dinosaurs and the alphabet. This time the child must position a bouncing ball above a dinosaur whose name is shown on the screen. If correct, the name and dinosaur move to the bottom of the screen. When all are matched, the reward is, once again, a dinosaur parade.
As mentioned above, Dinosaurs includes a set of pictures to color, some easy-reading text about the dinosaurs, and a list of additional activities. It's hard to imagine many parents wanting to tackle some of these activities (for example, making mock fossils with plaster of Paris). However, they might be useful in a preschool setting.
Like most educational programs for the very young, Dinosaurs requires an adult to get the program up and running. However, some children could probably learn to use it independently, or semi-independently after an adult carefully introduces it.
As a home-educational package, Dinosaurs would serve families with children aged 4 to 7, and younger children may also want to try it. If you're buying it for home use, you should realize that (as with many educational programs for young children) you should spend some time encouraging the child, clarifying the games, and reinforcing the learning. Overall, Dinosaurs is a worthwhile package.
Advanced Ideas, Inc.
2550 Ninth Street, Suite 104
Berkeley, CA 94710