- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2001

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.

Winnie the Pooh Baby (Disney Interactive, $19.99) provides a fun and engaging environment for infant and parent to meet a new group of friends.

The software meets or exceeds my requirements for a successful lapware title. It will keep both a small child sitting in a caregiver´s lap and the caregiver interested. It prompts interaction between the child and caregiver and introduces some essential skills such as observation and memory while encouraging recognition of shapes, letters and numbers.

From the very first screen, the 100 Acre Wood gang Pooh, Tigger, Roo, Piglet and Eeyore cleverly teach more than 20 early learning concepts within the familiar animated world brought to life by A. A. Milne more than 75 years ago.

Each of the program´s five games is created with a 9- to 24-month-old´s short attention span in mind. The games are based on the characters´ favorite attributes and offer a total experience in just a few minutes, keeping the child focused on the game.

For example, in "Pooh´s Hunny Quest," the honey-addicted bear needs more of the sweet treat. Babies touch random keys and Pooh reaches inside one of his many "hunny pots." Parents will have plenty of opportunities to react while helping baby recognize the different surprises found in the pots, including frogs, birds, bubbles, shapes, letters and, of course, the sweet treat itself.

Bouncing is the thing that Tiggers do best, and Tigger makes a great "Peek-A-Boo" playmate. Every time a key is hit, Tigger bounces onto the screen from a different forest hiding place, only to quickly disappear again. With an 18-month-old, I found this game to be extra fun as the child could cover his eyes and play along with Tigger while daddy kept the keys bopping.

Of course, music has a special spot in lapware, and Disney delivers with "Roo´s Breakfast Symphony." Here, tykes learn how much fun it is to create their own songs when they help Roo play a recognizable tune using a spoon on pots and pans. This is a wonderfully fun game, and it is easy to take it away from the computer for some kitchen-floor fun.

Another element to explore creativity, art, can be found with the help of Eeyore. He uses his tail as a brush that will reveal a 100 Acre Wood-inspired picture or portrait of one of the forest denizens. Finally, a child is introduced to the classic game of "Simon Says" with the help of Piglet.

While all ages will appreciate the familiarity of this title, the parental highlight has to be the "Good Job Button." This feature allows the mom and dad to direct the on-screen character to offer encouragement and praise to baby while the "Do It Again Button" lets parents repeat an activity or image that delights baby.

Once game play is done, parents can use the software to send E-mail postcards with baby´s picture inserted onto the Winnie-the-Pooh character-themed graphics.

Winnie the Pooh Baby (Disney Interactive, $19.99). Hybrid for Macintosh and Windows systems.

Parents should expect to hear silence when sending a grade-school child to study spelling lists, so how does incessant pounding fit in?

Providing a multisensory experience that allows children to see, hear and touch, the Turbo Twist Spelling Module (LeapFrog, $39.99) gives quick access to more than 400 words to help hone vocabulary and word recognition skills.

The lightweight, portable cylinder-shaped module gives children ages 6 and older an easy way to learn while sitting on a school bus, on vacation with mom and dad, or hanging out in the back yard. Turbo Twist´s personalized options allow players to program the game to know their name and make comments on favorite animals or sports.

The name of the product is derived from the fact that children hold onto the cylinder, viewing an LCD window, twisting the alphabet dial to find the correct letter or letters to play one of three games: "Learn It," which teaches how words are spelled, "Missing Letter," in which players find the correct letter or letters to complete a word, and "Spell a Word."

Of course, whenever a letter is dialed in, players must smack the end of the Turbo Twist to enter it. To keep the smacking and twisting smooth, all the action is accompanied by a fast-moving musical beat that gets players thinking and responding as they learn core spelling and phonics rules as well as vocabulary, synonyms and definitions.

Turbo Twist also works with LeapFrog´s Mind-Link Mindstation ($45.99, including six months of free downloads, available in the fall) and Leaplink ($24.99, available now with additional costs for downloads), each peripheral allows the product to be connected to the computer and the LeapFrog Web site.

At the site, parents can track a child´s progress, download new games and find new spelling words, increasing the Turbo Twist´s functionality.

Turbo Twist Spelling (LeapFrog, $39.99) A stand-alone unit requiring 4 AA batteries.

ROMper Room is a column devoted to finding the best of multimedia "edutainment. " Calls, letters or faxes about a particular column or suggestions for future columns 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 (josephtwtmail.com).

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