ST Educational SoftwareReviewed by Jim Pierson-Perry
ABZoo and PreSchool KidProgs are for children aged 3 to 6. Invasion provides typing practice for ages 6 to adult. Fortunately I waas able to get evaluation help from my four daughters, aged 3 to 8. These three MichTron programs cost $29.95 apiece, require a color monitor and are not copy protected.
ABZOOABZoo is aimed at introducing children to the computer keyboard and developing letter recognition skills. Three levels of work are provided, each increasingly harder. For the beginner, the letters of the keyboard are displayed onscreen. Pressing a key displays a picture of an animal whose name begins with that letter.
At the next level, the computer randomly picks a picture and displays it with the animal's name. The picture disappears, and the child must type the letters of the name as it was displayed on the screen. At each correct keypress, pieces of the picture appear it's like doing a jigsaw puzzle. The highest level briefly shows the picture and name, then the child must correctly type the name from memory. The [HELP] key will redisplay the picture as a memory jogger.
Levels 1 and 2 are fine for preschool children. Some will use it just to look at the pictures, while others can begin to learn the keyboard. Level 3 is more demanding of memorization skills and not necessarily appropriate for children at this age level. A nice touch is the musical cues that reinforce correct responses.
Two different sets of pictures are provided realistic and cartoon-style. There are some differences between the picture sets, which were all done with DEGAS Elite. The program and both picture sets can be installed on a double-sided disk.
One minor complaint is that the only way to exit the program is by pressing [SHIFT] [UNDO] difficult for little ones to remember. But ABZoo is a fun introduction to learning the keyboard. Even my 3 year old was able to use it without supervision.
PRESCHOOL KIDPROGSPreSchool KidProgs is actually three programs in one graphics, music and puzzle-solving activities. You can exit an activity whenever you want and return to the master menu.
The menu items are KidGrid+, KidKeys and KidBlocks. All program operations require the mouse. But my youngest children, ages 3 and 5, had a hard time coordinating mouse movement, although they understood exactly what they were trying to do with the program. With time they improved, but I think a joystick option would have been better for small hands.
KidGrid+ displays a drawing area containing 192 small triangles. The object is to create pictures by filling the triangles with any of 12 colors from a predefined palette. The program provides a starter set of 12 sample pictures. This is a good format for young artists, because it's much easier to fill in than draw freehand. Unfortuately, the pictures cannot be saved to disk. A way around this is to use a public domain program, such as SCRNDR.TOS from CompuServe, that redefines the [ALT] [HELP] printerdump sequence to saving the screen as a DEGAS-format picture file.
Making music is the object of KidKeys. A keyboard is displayed on screen, and notes are played through the internal speaker as they are selected with the mouse. Two different types of sounds, piano and organ, are available. There are 20 pre-recorded nursery rhymes, selected from a pictorial menu, and sing-along lyrics are provided in the manual.
The final activity is a 16-piece jigsaw puzzle in KidBlocks. Each piece can show one of six different faces, a different face for each of six possible puzzles. Pointing at a piece and clicking changes the face. The child goes through each piece, changing them as necessary, until an entire puzzle is completed, which is then rewarded by a short piece of music or animation.
KidProgs was rated far and away the best of the three by my panel of experts. Aside from the mouse-handling difficulties, they were all able to use the program without supervision and kept coming back for more.
INVASIONInvasion is designed as a typing drill instructor a la Space Invaders. Words from a list appear and drop down from the sky, imperiling the city below. The only defense is to type each word accurately and blow it up before it hits ground. There are three rounds of increasing difficulty and three different speed levels.
Word lists are easily created and edited with an auxiliary program. They can be tailored to use with spelling lessons or typing instruction word lists (of increasing difficulty). You can't change word lists during a game without returning to the desktop and restarting. A list can contain 20 entries of 29 characters each.
Numeric keypad typing skills are developed by typing math problems. These use math lists, similar to word lists, where simple equations are entered. Two math play modes are used-training, where the answers are shown, and testing, where the answers are hidden by question marks. To win, the entire equation must be typed. The [Enter] key is used as a substitute for the [=] key, a questionable practice for teaching accuracy.
This program has several problems. One is a delay caused by type-ahead: you can easily type faster than the letters are "exploded." This makes it hard to see and correct typing errors. Also, the program is simply too fast, even at a novice setting, for many beginners. My 7- and 8-year-olds really had to work to get even simple three- and four-letter words. For math problems, it's hard enough to type part of the equation let alone have time to solve it.
As a typing instructor, Invasion suffers from a lack of graded word lists. While you can create your own, there should have been a set of lists ranging from single letters through words of increasing difficulty. The program also provides no rating indicators of typing speed and accuracy. When you finish with a list, the program always tries to access the disk. If it's protected, you get two bombs and its restart time.
$29.95 each Color monitor required MichTron Inc. 576 South Telegraph Pontiac, MI 48053 (313) 334-5700