- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 21, 2002

In a world of violent video games, where dexterity of the thumb and index finger is infinitely more important than 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.

The popular PBS TV show "Jay Jay the Jet Plane" is flying to computer screens with two titles. One, Sky Heroes to the Rescue, focuses on early reading skills, and the second, Jay Jay Earns His Wings, concentrates on numbers.

Junior aviators 3 to 7 years old will instantly recognize the familiar jet plane and his friends as the games' introductory video clips outline simple stories with a problem for young players to solve.

Sky Heroes to the Rescue takes children on a flight to the magical Pangabula Island, where the Sparkleberry Tree is very sick. Jay Jay and his friends Tracey, Snuffy and Herky and adult characters Savannah and Big Jake explore nature and ecosystems while offering a reading experience. They must help find the things food, sun, rain, clean air and nurturing the Sparkleberry Tree needs to get better.

Each of the essential items can be found by exploring the environments on and around Pangabula Island. For example, at the Cloud King's City, located high in the sky, Snuffy, the little skywriter, finds an unhappy king who won't make it rain unless Snuffy can make him laugh.

The sinus-afflicted propeller plane enlists players' help to identify stationary clouds emblazoned with the first letter of a word. Once all the clouds with that letter, such as Z for zebra, are found, a picture of that item appears, helping to build the king's good humor.

Solve three puzzles, and the Cloud King lets go of the rain the Sparkleberry Tree needs and children have started learning to recognize letters and to see that those letters are used to create words.

Another letter-recognition task involves Savannah the supersonic jet. Players help Savannah find the heart icon, representing the nurturing and love all living things need, by helping her jet from cloud to cloud as Jay Jay calls out letters from off-screen. This is a great exercise because children learn to think fast and identify the moving clouds before they disappear off the screen.

These types of experiences, six in all, pepper the program and will help children hone phonics and early word-building abilities along with an understanding of the concepts of friendship and empathy toward all creatures.

In Jay Jay Earns his Wings, players visit Tarrytown Airport, where Jay Jay wants to prove he is ready for his own delivery route. Children help the little jet pass the test to prove he can do it, learning basic math skills at familiar locations, such as Smiling Meadows. At Smiling Meadows, Snuffy enlists Jay Jay's help to sort red, green and yellow apples.

Number recognition is covered on a visit to Pine Forest Mountain. There, Jay Jay asks Herky the Helicopter to help by sliding down the snow-covered mountain to get the package at the bottom of the slope. As Herky skis down the mountain, he goes past numbered flags. When Jay Jay calls out a number, the player clicks on that flag to keep Herky moving downhill.

After Jay Jay and his friends complete a total of six challenges, the jet returns to Tarrytown Airport to the accolades of comrades; it's a great time for parents to cheer on their little aviator.

When playing either title, children will be pleased to find Brenda Blue, the Tarrytown Airport mechanic, making an appearance. This character fills the human caretaker role for the little airplanes, and at the end of each PBS show, she discusses items such as rocks, plants and even the wind and encourages her viewers to "Think about it." Brenda and her familiar "Think about it" segments are found through clickable spots on the computer screen.

Each program also includes plenty of Jay Jay songs and coloring pages that can be completed on-screen or printed out for tabletop activities.

Sky Heroes to the Rescue and Jay Jay Earns His Wings, from Brighter Child Interactive, $19.99 each, cross-compatible with Macintosh and PC systems.

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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