By PAUL WAXMAN
Big Bird, Ernie, the Tink Tonks - Only $9.95 Each
Ernie, Big Bird, Grover and television's other "Sesame Street" characters have been making learning enjoyable and exciting for millions of children for more than a decade. Hi Tech Expressions bought the rights to the Sesame Street software series, originally published by CBS Software, and has re-released the programs at a fraction of their original cost.
As if the new price-$9.95 each-isn't enough of an enticement, each package
also includes a Sesame Street Growth Chart, a play manual that includes
suggestions to help parents use the programs more effectively and an offer
to receive a $2 graphics disk for either PartyWare or AwardWare, or a sampler
pack of their printer paper. Even if the programs were only fair, they
and the extras would be well worth the money. But "fair" is not what these
programs are. They're great-for children aged 3 to 6!
BIG BIRD'S SPECIAL DELIVERY
Big Bird and Little Bird must deliver a package containing an object from one of nine different categories: Clothes, Sports, Plants, Travel, Food, Animals, Kitchen Things, Buildings and Musical Instruments. Big Bird's Special Delivery has four possible destinations, each containing one item from four of the categories.
In Same Game, one of the items exactly matches the item to be delivered. In Find the Right Kind Game, one of the four is from the same category as the one Little Bird is holding. Since there are nine categories with six to eight items in each, the game can be played several times without much repetition.
Ability to match shapes (Game 1) and categorize (Game 2) are important
first steps in developing good reading and math skills. This program helps
reinforce those skills in a positive and enjoyable way. However,
it would be more effective if it weren't for a few problems. The graphics
showing the items to be matched aren't all clearly recognizable. In fact,
I had to look at the instruction booklet, which contains a list of all
the items, to make sure what a couple of them probably were. Also, the
children to whom I showed this program liked it at first but became bored
ERNIE'S MAGIC SHAPES
With a wave of his magic wand, Ernie the Magician makes a shape float over his head. Another wave, and a second shape appears on a table nearby. The child now and decides whether or not the two shapes match. If so, and the child agrees, Ernie nods and the two shapes float together before disappearing. If not, Ernie waves his wand, and a new shape appears on the table.
Ernie's Magic Shapes has six levels of play. At the lower levels, the child compares one shape to another or the colors of two similar shapes. Levels four and five require greater visual discrimination since the target object is made up of several shapes and each one has to be matched individually. At the highest level, there is a complex mixture of both shapes and colors.
The program is well designed, with neither the animation nor the program
design becoming more important than the skills being developed. The shapes
are clear and easily recognizable. Because of the increasing difficulty
of the levels, the program will continue to challenge and teach your child
as your child's capabilities increase--the program will grow with your
In Astro-Grover, the Zips have landed from the planet Zap. Your child and Grover, that friendly blue furry monster, will help the Zips build beautiful cities and then help them get home. While helping Grover, your child also helps himself review such introductory math skills as counting, addition, subtraction and recognizing number patterns.
There are five activities of increasing difficulty in Astro-Grover. Level one gives your child practice in counting. With each successful count, another building is added to a colorful city. Level two gives a different sort of practice in counting. Adding and subtracting skills are practiced in levels three and four, while in level five the child must determine which number combinations will add up to the number on the space ship.
The graphics, music and educational goals of each level, and the stylish way the software is put together, make Astro-Grover a beautiful and educationally sound program. Even after the skills are mastered, chances are your child will still enjoy reviewing them with Astro-Grover.
$9.95 each, 48K disk. Hi Tech Expressions, 1700 N.W. 65th Avenue, Suite 9, Plantation, FL 33313. (800) 848-9273. In Florida, (305) 584-6386.
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TINK TONKS SUBTRACTION
Another welcome new line of $9.95 educational software reissues comes from Thunder Mountain, a subsidiary of Mindscape.
From Mercer Mayer's classic book series comes Subtraction with the Tink Tonks. This software uses the appeal of the fairgrounds to entice children aged 4 to 8 to enter the various tents and put their subtraction skills to the test.
The opening menu offers two choices: Subtraction Fair and Play a Game. Each has three skill levels. There is a maximum of five subtraction activities and two games. Just as at a real fair, you can spend all your "money" at one or two booths doing the same activities several times or you can try them all. Beware: there are a couple of sucker" booths.
Generally, the children with whom I tried this program had a lot of fun. The graphics and music are appealing and set the mood for fun at a fair. The subtraction examples are presented in very entertaining ways, with each tent having a particular style of presentation. As a change of pace and after the child has won enough Beepers, he or she can enter the Arcade for a test of memory.
Some of the children had difficulty controlling Tonker, the cute little robot who is the child's computerized alter ego. But eventually they all got the hang of it. Also, I wish there were more levels. I would like to use this program with my older students.
RUN FOR THE MONEY
Despite minor irritations, Run For The Money is one of the best economic simulations I've ever seen for children and adults. The premise of this two-player game is that two rocket ships needing repairs have landed on the planet Simian. You and your opponent race to buy raw materials needed to manufacture synanas, which you then try to sell to the natives. With your profits, you can repair your rocket ship, leave Simian and win the game.
To accomplish that goal, you must make decisions that take into account such interrelated factors as the three grades of raw material available, bargaining with suppliers and the unpredictable reaction of the planetary natives to the quality of your product and the your price. With your profits, you participate in an auction to buy the parts you need for your ship's repairs.
You plan your business strategy using a modified spreadsheet and are rated by the natives on how well you meet your projected goals. This rating can influence their decision to buy from you or your opponent. other features include profit graphs, the Simian Vine newspaper and the development of an advertising campaign.
There are a couple of minor problems with the program. When it loaded, there was some screen flickering. Pressing [SELECT] changes the level of play at the beginning of the game, but it was difficult to get the computer to stop on the level I wanted. The tutorial, when I finally got it running, was great.
Sometimes I think we can be too sophisticated. After having worked with Atari's four voices, I was disappointed to find that Thunder Mountain's Songwriter uses only one voice. How can you make music with only one voice? No chords or counter-melodies-not even a simulated rhythm background.
And then I played with it and had a lot of fun. The program represents the music as a roll in a player piano. The screen shows a two-and-a-half octave spread of what looks like a modified piano keyboard. You can decide the beginning note of that spread. You choose a note to be a part of the music by moving a white marker and placing it with the spacebar. The size of the marker changes according to the duration of the note. You can design your own musical scale and choose any one of a number of note durations including such non-standard notes as 24ths and 48ths.
You can also create your own keyboard commands (called "musical ideas") to automatically repeat patterns of notes. And included on the disk is a library of songs that show off what the program can do.
Whether or not you'll like this program depends upon how you want to use it. If you want to learn about " true" musical notation, chords, rhythm and background and be able to translate what you do on the computer to another musical medium, try another program. What Songwriter will do for you is give you a graphic representation of musical patterns and the physical relationship between notes of different values and durations. I found this program to be a fun and effective introduction to the physics of music, 'for age 5 and up.
$9.95 each, 48K disk. Thunder Mountain, P.O. Box 1167, Northbrook, IL 60065. (800) 221-9884. In Illinois, (800) 942-7315.
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