- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 5, 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.

Riverdeep’s famed literate hare extends his educational reach to the world of hand-held gaming through a line of electronic learning aids.

Developed by Techno Source, a quartet of devices the size of paperback novels give children 3 to 6 years old a chance to hone word-recognition and math skills through games and flashcard presentations.

Each unit has a black-and-white LCD screen about the size of a large postage stamp embedded in a colorful plastic case emblazoned with the Reader Rabbit character. The rabbit is displayed prominently along with directional buttons and switches for the on-screen fun.

Two of the reading titles were most effective in capturing my junior test subject’s interest through the use of challenges, musical sounds and snippets of songs.

The Early Reading Readiness hand-held offers five levels of difficulty within “fun” and “match” modes for the kindergartner. Under fun, the player must crash an airplane into letters, scaling learning levels from simply hitting random letters to hitting letters in the correct order to form three-letter words. Match is a simple, though memory-crunching, sequencing game that has the player mimic the order in which objects are highlighted.

The Reading Readiness hand-held again presents multiple levels of difficulty within “hop” and “racer” modes for the first-grade audience. The programming delves into more advanced skills of word building, spelling and a bit of sentence structure. Players either run over letters in a race simulation or jump to letters floating up and down the screen in a Frogger-like challenge to spell three-letter words.

I was not as impressed with the Learning Letters product, in which one of its major components tasks a child to match letters to an object — N for nest, for example. It is hard to tell what the objects in question are because they are pictured with a limited number of pixels. Also, the Beginner Addition unit did not contain enough variety for my multitasking, multimedia-saturated test subject.

The hand-helds’ price point, which includes batteries, makes them worth purchasing as a last-second diversion for an extended car or plane trip, but they are a tougher sell when parents are looking for a more robust and upgradable electronic learning aid.

Reader Rabbit Early Reading Readiness, Reading Readiness, Learning Letters and Beginner Addition from Techno Source, $9.99 each, stand-alone unit with two AA batteries 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, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@ washingtontimes.com).

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