- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 18, 2002

In a world of violent 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.

Kasey the Kinderbot packages an animated early-learning system suitable for younger children within a friendly robot loaded with verbal instructions accompanied by visual displays.

The stand-alone toy, which is 14 inches tall and a little less than a foot wide, provides plenty of learning opportunities as it helps teach children the basics of letters and numbers as well as good manners, social concepts and a little dancing, singing and stretching.

The sturdy companion sports a cheerful face with moving eyes and a mouth that shows a couple of tiny teeth. Its head turns, and its arms move up and down as it talks.

Kasey's most endearing feature may be its personality, which takes it from toy to friend. It offers lots of fun expressions, from the familiar "Gimme high five" to "Spark my circuits," and it even has a sense of humor, spontaneously offering jokes some of which only a toddler can really understand.

Large, rounded feet provide a tip-proof base, while Kasey's chest sports a 3-inch-square, black-and-white LED screen divided into four quadrants, each associated with a different jewel-toned light button. Kasey comes with a few on-screen friends, the most notable being Chip, a female insect-type character with an infectious laugh that takes center stage in several of the games.

Kasey the Kinderbot comes packed with a "get-ready-for-school" cartridge that fits on its back and presents four activity areas, beginning with the ABC Farm, where children can choose among several games, including Feed the Letters, Letter Sounds, Letter Barn and Farmer Wilkins' Farm.

Choices to questions or moves are made simply by pressing one of the four colored light buttons. Through the ABC Farm, players work to identify letters, phonic sounds and the difference between upper- and lower-case letters. They also begin to connect letters with words.

The second of the robot's offerings can be found in the Counting Kitchen activity area. This place gives youngsters some culinary fun with games such as Kitchen Spy, in which one of four objects on Kasey's screen disappears and then reappears while Kasey encourages players to identify the item that briefly left the screen, or Making Cookies, which introduces another character, Krinkle, who gobbles down cookies as soon as a child selects the right shape: oval, square, diamond or circle.

Because Kasey can keep junior involved for a long period of time, the Playground area provides some physical activities, such as Stretch Break, in which the child is asked to demonstrate a penguin walk or rabbit jump, and Tag Chip, which exercises the noggin by having the player quickly tap buttons to tag Chip before she hops away.

Challenges that sneak in some learning are found in the Game Room and include Mixed-Up Masks. Here, masks depict a variety of emotions happy, sad, joking, surprised. Kasey asks the child to pick the mask that shows, for example, a sad face. When the right mask is chosen, Chip shows up and tries it on with a hearty laugh.

As owners get older, other Kinderbot cartridges can be purchased ($14.99 each). They contain modules such as language curriculums in French and Spanish, world science concepts such as the weather or animals, and more math lessons.

Kasey the Kinderbot, Fisher-Price, $64.99, stand-alone unit, requires 3 D-size batteries.

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 ([email protected]).

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