- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 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.
Putt-Putt the car and Freddi Fish help introduce children to curriculum-based kindergarten and first-grade lessons with a pair of fantastic software suites containing interactive animated adventures.
A World of Fun and Learning: Kindergarten (Humongous Entertainment, $19.99) features the adventure game "Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo" as Putt-Putt and Pep, his mini-mobile buddy, answer clues and solve puzzles while trying to find the Cartown Zoo's baby animals.
Throughout the adventure, children will find numerous hot spots on the brightly animated screens. As a Humongous Entertainment fan, I found some of the best humor under those hot spots.
Children direct the action by solving puzzles and overcoming obstacles such as a slippery avalanche in Arcticland. As they click around on the pages, they will also find activities, songs and pages that can be printed and colored.
Packaged with the game is the "Big Thinkers, Kindergarten" CD-ROM navigated with the help of the gregarious duo Becky and Ben. The skill-sharpening disc is filled with activities that build upon letter identification, measurement and estimation, sequencing, and spelling.
"Learning Kindergarten" also includes a Putt-Putt Notebook, which has a plastic binder and 36 pages of activities, including coloring, stickers, word searches and riddles. As children work through the book, they can access the Humongous Web site (www.humongous.com) for new activities and pages to color.
A World of Fun and Learning: 1st Grade (Humongous Entertainment, $19.99) offers the intriguing story ROM "Freddi Fish 2: The Case of the Haunted Schoolhouse." In this game, Freddi and Luther explore their undersea world to nab the ghost who's stealing all the guppies' toys at Mrs. Croaker's school.
One of the most appealing aspects of Freddi Fish's story is the wonderful characters, including Mr. Crabby, Luther's Codfish Commando action figure and Mrs. Croaker.
Players help Freddi and Luther find the five items a life preserver, diving helmet, pulley, baby buggy wheel and "mock-stock-mibble-bock-wopper-bopper" they need to finish building a trap for the ghost-fish.
Packaged with Freddi Fish, the second disc "Big Thinkers, 1st Grade" brings back Becky and Ben and sends them to first grade to practice addition, subtraction, nouns, verbs, phonics, fractions and telling time.
Freddi Fish 2 also includes a colorful notebook with new activities.
The only disappointment in these suites is they don't come with a storage case for the CD-ROMs, so players will need a CD-ROM wallet.
The World of Fun and Learning: Kindergarten and The World of Fun and Learning: 1st Grade (Humongous Entertainment, $19.99 each). Hybrid for Macintosh and Windows 95/98 systems.

The explosion of technology in the home has meant children need to learn about computers at an early age. Hoping to nudge junior into understanding the thrills of data entry, the Learning Keyboard (KB Gear Interactive, $49.95) features all the same functions as Mom and Dad's boring keyboard but with some familiar characters from the 100-Acre Wood.
The periphery is brightly colored in yellows, greens and blues with Piglet, Tigger and Pooh looking on, inviting children to explore and learn. Function keys are primarily bright yellow with purple number keys and orange letter keys. It would have been nice if KB Gear had included a mouse with the same colorful elements.
This keyboard is an ultra rugged product I dropped it twice while trying to hook it up it offers a lifetime warranty and will work with all PCs using a standard keyboard connection (no USB interface yet).
The keyboard comes packaged with an oldie but goodie, Disney Interactive's "Ready to Read" with Pooh a comprehensive reading program for 3- to 6-year-olds that focuses on the alphabet, phonics and spelling.
With multiple levels of difficulty, the program will grow with children as they learn with games such as arranging honey pots alphabetically or rhyming with Owl while building self-confidence.
Learning Keyboard (KB Gear Interactive, $49.95) For Windows 95/98 systems.
ROMper Room is a column devoted to finding the best of multimedia "edutainment." Calls, letters or faxes are always welcome. Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail to joseph@twtmail.com.

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