- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 29, 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.

The Little People return in Discovery Airport to give children 2 to 4 years old an aeronautical adventure filled with games and activities. Sonya Lee, Eddie, Sarah Lynn, Maggie, Michael and a new adult character, Paula Pilot, introduce this latest Fisher-Price toy world that contains no sharp corners or harsh lines but only beautiful blue skies, bright yellow suns and airplanes in every color of the rainbow.

The CD program progresses from simple lap ware, for which baby sits with Mom or Dad and has the action narrated to him while beating on the keyboard, to a self-directed learning experience once junior can manipulate a mouse.

These rounded, chunky-looking folks teach basics such as colors, counting, number recognition and sorting in several levels of difficulty. For example, work with Eddie from the control tower to help him give takeoff clearance to planes. On the easiest setting, three planes are shown on the runway. The control panel shows the color of the airplane that has clearance, prompting the child to find the airplane that looks the same.

Click on that plane, and Eddie gives it the OK to take off. On the middle setting, four or more airplanes appear on the runway with multiple color options, such as a blue plane with orange wings, that must be matched. On the hardest setting, the child receives only verbal clues, such as, "Can you find the blue plane with orange wings?"

Other challenges find Sarah Lynn, Eddie's twin sister, helping passengers with their bags and has players match the shape and color of the bags on the floor with one of two conveyor displays. Or Sonya Lee, a sweet little girl who loves puppies and kittens, must get pets into the right carrier. Children must match the pet, sporting a numbered tag, to the carrier with the same number. Sonya Lee and the player also count the number of pets on each transport.

As is characteristic with other Little People titles, fun clickables appear on all of the screens, such as the tower windsock that changes from fish to a sock, and several pages to color that can be printed out to take away from the computer.

Little People Discovery Airport, Knowledge Adventure, $19.99, hybrid for Mac or PC systems.

The nerve of Michael Eisner, former children's programming chief for ABC television (now the head honcho at Disney), trying to educate me during my Saturday-morning-cartoon-saturated youth.

In 1972, Mr. Eisner listened to his Looney Toons pal Chuck Jones and began running advertising executive David McCall's two- to three-minute music-video vignettes touting the amazing worlds of numbers, grammar, history, science and health. These melodic ditties became the "Schoolhouse Rock" legacy and have been ingrained in my brain ever since.

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of this innovative series, Disney has put together a glorious DVD journey down memory lane for parents and a great learning experience for their offspring.

Two discs feature all 46 of the cartoons, which use a wide range of musical styles from funk to blues to jazz to folk to introduce some fairly heavy principles that brilliantly employ the teaching method of repetition and rhyming.

Children access the songs on the first disc through a colorful screen that resembles a diner menu, and they can view selections by subject, ask for the top 10 most requested tracks or run all of them at once. When a subject is selected, viewers get a screen filled with all of the characters, who go into song when clicked.

My favorites include "Conjunction Junction," sung by a railroad engineer with a Leon Redbone-esque twang who explains those pesky connectors that hook up words, phrases and clauses; the angst-ridden warblings of "I'm Just a Bill," which succinctly explains the legislative process; and "Naughty Number Nine" which introduces the bluesy trials of a mouse trying to avoid the pool balls of a fat-cat hustler, with a lesson in multiplication thrown in.

Disc 2 focuses on the background of "Schoolhouse Rock," offering a short documentary with the creators talking about their Emmy Awards (one year, it actually beat out "Sesame Street" and "Mr. Rogers"); the making of "I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College," a brand new song introduced by Mr. Eisner and filled with more history; the long lost song "The Weather Show"; and a new generation of artists, such as Better Than Ezra, performing a few of the classics.

Additionally, the disc contains a substantial quiz combining multiple-choice questions with a word jumble to have students review what they have learned and the "Arrange a Schoolhouse Rock Song" challenge, which has children trying to put segments of three of the shorts into the correct sequence.

I can attribute much of my learning over the years to many of my teachers, but none has been more entertaining than the animated folks of "Schoolhouse Rock."

"Schoolhouse Rock," Buena Vista Home Entertainment, for DVD-enabled home entertainment centers and computers, $29.99.

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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