- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 16, 2002

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

Young scientists are introduced to the world of biology with the help of GeoSafari's Talking Microscope. Geared toward the first-grade crowd, this stand-alone unit the size of an iron comes in bright orange, green and blue molded plastic with 12 slides for investigation.

The mounted specimens giant desert hairy scorpion, brine shrimp, black widow spider, honey bee, golden-eyed lacewing, ground beetle, daddy longlegs, mosquito, bluebottle housefly, harvester ant, jumping spider and flea are not the actual creatures but tiny transparency photos of each wedged between two pieces of plastic.

When the unit is turned on and a slide is placed in the microscope holder, the child is prompted by sound effects and a very happy voice to enter the three-letter combination from the slide using the big "A," "B" and "C" buttons found on the back of the microscope. The child then can choose between learning some facts or taking a quiz.

If the "facts" button is pressed, the child will hear tidbits about the creature on the slide, for example, brine shrimp breathe through their legs. The child then can twist a lower ring on the microscope, which moves an arrow around the specimen to gather more info.

If it's test time, the same rules apply, but the child hits the "quiz" button and answers true-false questions through corresponding buttons to reinforce what has been learned.

The microscope also can magnify any object up to five times, but the slides really offer the education with a total of 120 facts and questions being available.

The product's shortcomings will become immediately apparent when junior is quickly back at the computer playing a video game. It does not take very long to explore 12 slides, even with the narrator's information on each, and the magnification does not offer an intense enough view into other microscopic worlds.

GeoSafari could have a great product if it could sell additional slide packs featuring other types of samples or update the microscope to handle a cartridge-based system to freshen up the content.

Although not nearly as fun or technologically advanced as Mattel's QX3 Microscope of a few years ago, the Talking Microscope still gives its target audience a good beginning to exploring life's smaller creatures.

Talking Microscope, GeoSafari, $34.95, stand-alone unit requiring three C batteries.

In an emergency, even children who have been carefully instructed and trained in at-home fire drills can panic. At only 9½ inches tall, Herbie Hydrant could become a child's best friend and the best $60 a parent ever spent.

Designed to be child-friendly, Herbie is a bright red and blue fire hydrant, with a clock face and glow-in-the-dark hands Captain Kangaroo would love. When a child removes Herbie from his base, he comes to life and becomes an easy-to-carry siren, flashlight and strobe light.

In the event of a fire, hurricane, tornado, or just a power loss, the child holding onto Herbie can more easily be found in the dark, through smoke or if hiding in the corner.

The device sits on a low-voltage, self-charging base. When removed from the base, Herbie begins to work on battery power, and a built-in digital timer starts. The timer, along with medical information and emergency contact information parents can place inside the safety compartment, can provide medical technicians with important information in the event parents are not available.

Herbie also helps with fire safety education. He comes packaged with an information kit of safety education accessories, including a full-color Home Safety Tips pamphlet covering everything from home intruders to tornados, an outside door decal to alert emergency personnel to how many children are in the house and a postcard to let the local fire station know Herbie is on duty.

Herbie Hydrant, Get Herbie Inc., $59.95, stand-alone unit with rechargeable batteries and cord included.

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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