- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 2, 2005

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.

The Schoolhouse Rock animated shorts ran consistently between 1973 and 1984 on ABC, each offering a three-minute music video to teach children about government, grammar, math and science.

The personal learning tool innovator LeapFrog Enterprises has created a pair of new cartridges for its hand-held Leapster gaming system that highlight a selection of the famous cartoons. Unfortunately, they fall a bit short of interactive education.

First, in honor of Independence Day, America Rock appeals to the second- to fourth-grade audience with a quintet of visually amusing and toe-tapping presentations that help explain the causes of the American Revolution, the U.S. Constitution and the role of the president.

After selecting from a main menu using the Leapster’s touch-sensitive screen, junior can watch and follow text along with “I’m Just a Bill,” “The Preamble,” “No More Kings,” “Three-Ring Government” and “Fireworks.”

It would have been great if the developers had created challenges integrating some of the cool characters portrayed in the ‘toons, bringing them to animated life. For example, how about a game using Bill as he treacherously works his way through Congress.

Alas, only a multiple-choice quiz, called the Super Slammer, allows viewers to reinforce some of the lessons displayed. Successful players are rewarded with an extra narrated fact about the United States.

Next, Grammar Rock, for first- and second-graders, uses the same formula as America Rock.

Children can watch and listen to infectious ditties such as “A Noun Is a Person, Place or Thing,” “Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla,” “Conjunction Junction,” “Verb! That’s What’s Happening” and “Busy Prepositions.” They also can take part in another Slammer quiz concentrating on questions identifying parts of speech.

LeapFrog normally delivers plenty of eclectic and educational content within its Leapster cartridges. However, I would suggest that parents pass on the new pair and instead just purchase the Special 30th Anniversary School House Rock DVD set ($29.99, Buena Vista Home Video), which contains all 46 cartoons along with an on-screen trivia game and behind-the-scenes extras.

America Rock and Grammar Rock for LeapFrog Enterprises, $24.99 each. Requires Leapster Learning Game System ($89.99).

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, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@ washingtontimes.com).

Duo of holiday treats

These multimedia items for DVD-enabled home entertainment centers and computers will help keep patriotism high:

• “The Presidents,” from New Video, $49.99. Students get an education on the most important job in the United States through a three-disc DVD set that provides a snapshot of the 43 commanders in chief.

Based on the book “To the Best of My Ability,” the eight-part History Channel series uses photographs, footage and insight from a wide range of experts for more than six hours of learning about the executive branch of American government.

Each DVD covers a select group of presidents and offers snippets covering major accomplishments as well as problems they encountered, a basic biography and a glimpse into their often-complicated personalities.

Extras include a text-based timeline of the presidents and a 90-minute documentary on their wives.

• “The American Revolution,” from New Video, $79.99. One of my favorite parts of the July Fourth holiday is watching the History Channel’s re-airing of its excellent series on the birth of America. Now I can enjoy it anytime, thanks to a five-disc DVD set that not only compiles all of the programs, but also throws in a quartet of retrospectives on some of the Revolution’s significant figures.

Students can immerse themselves in eight hours of battle re-enactments, original documents, words from the Founding Fathers and a mix of interviews with historians as the programs cover everything from the Declaration of Independence to the Boston Tea Party to the surrender of the British at Yorktown.

The nonstop history lesson continues on the last pair of DVDs. Viewers get 50-minute presentations on George Washington, Benedict Arnold, Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere culled from the popular A&E; Biography series.

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