by Dorothy Heller
Does this sound familiar?
Dear Hi Res:
Ever since my spouse brought the computer home, things haven't been the same. One of our kids only comes to bed after hours of programming and has started to skip meals and eat stale tuna fish sandwiches. The other kids don't seem to be learning anything except how to kill enemy aliens.
Since that Atari computer came out of the family budget tell me please, how can all of us benefit from its computer capabilities?
A New Computer Parent
Making Computing a Family Affair
Who uses the Atari in your family? Does everyone get their chance to use the computer, or:
- Is the Atari monopolized by kids blowing up planets?
- Does one of you feel like a computer widow/widower?
- Do you feel that your computer is a financial investment that isn't paying off?
Personal computing can open up exciting possibilities for you and every member of your family. Stay tuned! In this and future columns, We'll talk about:
- games that have general entertainment value--without using violence.
- educational games that children can enjoy and learn from, even non-readers, as young as three years old.
- how people who are limited by are limited by physical handicaps or family responsibilities, use their Atari for home learning and earnings.
- the exciting possibilities the Atari computer offers for career and personal development.
- how you can use your family computer for home management.
- evaluating games and educational software for your whole family.
- using your Atari for creative hobbies, such as art and music.
- Atari PILOT and Logo friendly programming languages for beginners and children.
Now, lets take a look at two games for 3-to-6-year olds from The Learning Company.
A software company in Portola Valley, California is challenging the stereotype of who uses computers. The Learning Company's founders, top managers, and many key members of the programming staff, are women. Ann Piestrup, Teri Perl, and Leslie Grimm are all educators and parents who believe that children as young as three years old can enjoy computers and learn with them. Their goal is to create learning games that take advantage of the computer's sound, graphics, and color capabilities, plus children's natural curiosity, instead of standardized "computer-assisted instruction" programs emphasizing question-and-answer drills. The Learning Company also believes that games can be fun and challenging without violence.
Two of their learning games are now available for the Atari 400/800/ 1200 computers. Juggle's Rainbow was first developed on the Apple computer; the other, Juggle's House, is an exclusive for Atari.
Both are available on disk and cassette and come with attractive, illustrated instruction and activity booklets.
"Juggles" offers a child several learning activities, with an option menu enabling the parent to regulate the speed of the games and use picture clues for very young children and non-readers.
The first learning activity is a rainbow game that teaches children the concepts of above and below. Blue paper strips come with the game you can place on the center row of the computer keyboard. That way the child learns to press keys above or below the blue strip and watch what happens on the screen.
Another activity is the butterfly game, to teach the child the concepts of right and left. In this game the parent places a blue strip extending from the sixth key at the top of the keyboard to the B key at the bottom. By watching the screen, the child learns to differentiate between left and right.
Juggle's Windmill, the third game, combines the child's learning experience, correlating the concepts of above left, above right, below left, and below right with screen graphics.
These games also include line-and-circle recreations to help the child recognize the letters b, d, p, and q, which are difficult for many children to distinguish.
Thomasina, our reviewer, a young lady about to celebrate her third birthday, enjoys and learns from Juggle's Rainbow, with a few minor difficulties. Because of her age, she requires some adult supervision and explanations. She also has a tendency to move the blue strips on the keyboard, and even chew on them while she is figuring out her next move!
Still, the game's colorful graphics and musical accompaniment give her positive reinforcements throughout. If she presses an above key inappropriately, when the game calls for below, the program displays "that was above" on the screen and gives her the chance to keep on trying.
Juggle's Rainbow seems to be very successfully child-proof, since the child can press on any combination of keys without making the program crash, and the Shift, Control, and Break keys don't respond at all. Thomasina did short-circuit herself a few times by leaning forward to touch graphics on the screen and inadvertently pressing the space bar. This simply starts the game again, or goes on to a new activity, but doesn't cause any program errors or "crashes."
Both Thomasina and even adults especially enjoy the picture games that climax each segment. By pressing any series of keys, the child creates a rainbow, butterfly, or windmill on the screen. As the child continues pressing keys, the rainbow or butterfly changes color, and the windmill goes around.
By the time Thomasina has played for about forty minutes, she has correlated above and beyond with the more familiar words of top and bottom, and responds appropriately when the games cue her. She also recognizes letters on the screen; left and right cues; and some of the letters on the keyboard.
The format of Juggle's House is similar to Juggle's Rainbow. The parent also has the option to regulate the game's speed and the use of picture clues and blue divider strips for the keyboard.
But, instead of above, below, left and right, Juggle's House demonstrates the concepts of outside and inside. After the child has worked through several explore-and-review segments, a house appears on the screen. Pressing the keys inside the house, the child can make furniture appear in different rooms. Pressing the outside keys produces a tree, a dog, and other outside scenes. After the child has pressed ten keys, all the objects appear on the screen. Additional key presses animate the objects. The bird flies, the dog's tail wags, and smoke comes out of the chimney.
Juggle's Toyshelf demonstrates the concepts of upper and lower. When the child works through the explore-and-review segments, key presses make toys appear on the upper and lower shelves of the toyshelf. With more key presses, the child can make the toys rotate or match up.
In some ways, Juggle's House is even more appropriate for our young learner, since she can readily recognize and identify with the objects and scenes. With adult help, this game can be successful with children as young as two.
Back to Basics
The Learning Company actually presents some very sophisticated concepts in a game format. While the child plays, he or she is learning about the computer and the computer keyboard. She is learning the lessons contained in the games and beginning to think in terms of quadrants.
Juggle's Rainbow and Juggle's House demonstrate that educational software can be game-like and still communicate basic learning skills. Learning games are a new trend in software when children get to play computer games--only you know that they're also learning!
Dorothy Heller is co-author of Computer Confidence: A Woman's Guide, Acropolis Books Limited and Free Software for your Atari Computer, Enrich/Ohause. She is a freelance writer living in Cupertino, California.