- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 11, 2000

In a world of ultraviolent video games, where dexterity of the thumb and index finger is infinitely more important than the flexing of the cerebrum, there must be a place for children and their parents to interact and actually learn something from that overpriced multimedia computer/ gaming system. Take a deep breath and enter the ROMper Room, where learning is a four-letter word cool.
A classic 1950s illustrated story by Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak and the Nickelodeon television show the story inspired come to computer screens in Little Bear: Toddler Discovery Adventures (The Learning Company, $29.99).
The first of three Learning Buddies packages, this title introduces toddlers 18 months to 3 years old to the world of Little Bear and his friends, Duck, Chicken, Cat, Owl and Mother Bear.
Parents help their diminutive computer users develop early counting, shape-recognition, color-identification, listening and problem-solving skills through seven on-screen activities that are reinforced with 36 printable options.
I found many of the program's elements can be linked to real-life activities when taken away from the computer. For example, young children love to be outside, watching and helping mom and dad work. At the computer, toddlers can help Mother Bear plant and water her seeds, resulting in crops perfect for counting.
Another garden game finds children helping Hen change her scarecrow's clothing. Lots of shirts, pants and hats from court jester to cowboy can be mixed and matched.
Listening and memory skills can be honed when little ones try to find objects hiding in the forest with Duck and Little Bear in "Do You See What I See." In "Fishing with Owl," young anglers help owl catch fish that match a certain color, size or both.
The obligatory musical activity also is included and has tots creating songs with the help of Chicken on the water glass xylophone or Cat on the washboard.
Little Bear: Toddler Discovery Adventures (The Learning Company, $29.99). Hybrid for Macintosh and Windows 95/98 systems.
Created by teachers, Excel@Middle School (Knowledge Adventure, $40) offers more than 330 interactive classes in 12 subjects. The fantastic six-CD-ROM set includes lessons on U.S. and world history, geography, ancient civilizations, pre-algebra, physical science, grammar, reading comprehension and vocabulary.
Excel@Middle School is the first of three personalized programs (the other titles focus on high school and mathematics) that present standard curriculum content to complement a student's regular classroom studies.
Each works with an integrated learning system to provide lesson plans designed to help students pass state exams.
Once familiar with the classes offered, students can create a learning plan using the interactive study planner. This feature helps students organize their time, design course work and make the most of study time by fitting different lesson plans to a calendar that will encourage them to keep up with the work.
The Excel@Middle School program helps users determine where they need to apply themselves. For example, I found the reading comprehension diagnostic test extremely helpful in determining which aspects of a class I needed to concentrate on.
Supporting the programs, the course offers tutorials that show students how to break down a task, complete each segment and build a learning plan systematically.
Helpful tools include the New Millennium Encyclopedia, which contains more than 170,000 entries; a speed reader to help increase reading efficiency and comprehension; Spanish
and French language instructions; a typing tutor program; the Math Blaster Pre-Algebra program; a multimedia workshop that uses video, sound, text and graphics; and Ultimate Word Attack, a fast-action word game.
As students devour the lessons, educators and parents can keep track of their accomplishments on a progress screen.
Additionally, through September, purchasers of Excel programs can redeem a coupon for two months of free on-line tutoring from Tutornet (www.tutornet.com).
Excel@Middle School (Knowledge Adventure, $40) Hybrid for Macintosh and Windows 95/98 systems.

Double delight

These multimedia entertainment items for children 5 years of age and older may bring moments of merriment.
A Goofy Movie by Buena Vista Home Entertainment (For PC or Macintosh with DVD-ROM drive, $19.99) With humble beginnings as a bit player named Dippy Dawg in "Mickey's Revue," this clumsy canine has been entertaining children around the world for almost 70 years. A 1985 full-length feature starring the master of physical comedy has been ported to the digital video format and filled with fun extras. Besides the 78-minute, crystal-clear film exploring the adventures of Goofy and his teen-age son, Max, surviving a sidesplitting road trip, look for a Disney DVD storybook, a trivia game and two animated shorts. Though certainly not on the same level as Disney classics such as "Peter Pan" or "Pinocchio," "A Goofy Movie" still offers enough silliness for any cartoon hound in the family.
Who Wants to be a Millionaire, by Sony (For PlayStation, $39.99) Maybe someone in the family has heard of this game show hosted by the ebullient Regis Philbin? Yes, the popularity of this quiz show has become so intense that it has spawned a computer game and a second edition that has made its way to the console arena. All the excitement and action of the television series come to the home entertainment center without the actual cash prizes.
More than 600 questions are available with plenty of sarcastic banter from Reege. Unfortunately, the game lends itself more to a one-player effort than family activity. Parents still should love that children will actually learn something, but they probably will get sick of hearing, "Is that your final answer?" every time junior asks to borrow the car.
ROMper Room is a column devoted to finding the best of multimedia "edutainment." Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (joseph@twtmail.com).


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