Children join Bonnie and Junior in an animated prehistoric world where mathematics is the theme in this outstanding CD-ROM. This program was created by Singapore-based developers for children in Primary One and Primary Two. It is rich with educational opportunities, offering a stunning variety of activities covering a comprehensive range of math concepts.
The main screen introduces children to the program’s characters. Children then choose from Primary One activities, Primary Two activities, or two arcade-style games.

The two main learning modules – Primary One and Primary Two – offer 5 and 6 learning areas, respectively, organized by math subject. In each of these, there are Activities, Challenges, and at least one Learn & Explore area.

In Primary One, there are five areas corresponding to different math concepts – Word Problems, Shapes, Adding Equal Groups (providing an early introduction to multiplication), Number Bonds (number pairs), and Tens and Ones. In the Adding Equal Objects area, children will find a number of ways to explore adding equal groups of objects – and they develop an early understanding of multiplication as they play. An activity requires children to sort pieces of fruit into boxes according to a given rule (such as "5 sixes"). That accomplished, children complete the number sentence "5 X 6 =". The Challenge requires kids to arrange carts filled with unequal quantities of fruit so that each cart holds the same number of fruits. Other areas allow children to explore a fridge filled with food items in the form of common shapes (a tin of baked beans, for example) and rotate them to discover their different faces; explore all the number pairs that add up to a given number by moving plates back and forth between Randy’s hands; create their own math stories using different color flowers and insects; and feeding burgers to a hungry dinosaur by solving a math equation.

The Primary Two area is home to six learning areas – Word Problems; Division; Multiplication; Fractions; Shapes; and Hundreds, Tens, and Ones. In the Fractions area, for example, children find Activities and Challenges in the arcade room. Pressing on Learn & Explore will introduce players to the math concepts they’ll need to understand in order to complete the activities and challenges. Here, children are given a waffle shape and then are asked how many equal parts they’d like to cut the waffle into. By adding jam to the resulting sections, children learn about fractions. The Activity involves cutting a figure into equal parts, then using some of these parts to fill empty spaces in a pattern. Children must then write the appropriate fraction of the shape that was used. Challenge 1 is entitled Jungle Catch, and kids must collect shapes that correspond to the given fraction. This strengthens visual discrimination skills at the same time as it drills fractions, because not all the shapes are divided into equal parts. Challenge 2 is a delightful exercise in spatial skills, and is a challenge indeed. Children are given a grid, and they must cut it into a variety of abstract shapes so that when it is flipped, it forms an exact match. There are so many correct answers, and every time three matches are made, they can be printed and shared with friends. In other areas, children "summon" little ant soldiers by hundreds, tens, and ones and watch as the numeral increases accordingly; they explore early geometry by completing mosaic puzzles by scrolling through shapes, and rotating them just right; and solve word problems by working with onscreen manipulatives, then filling in the appropriate number sentence.

Game One requires players to guide Junior to the cart labeled with a number that correctly completes a given math equation. They’ll need to climb vines in order to reach different levels, all the while avoiding monsters, and making use of safe havens in order to carefully time Junior's movements. Game Two is another fast-paced arcade-style activity that involves guiding a frog to the correct figure that completes a given pattern.

This ambitious program admirably offers creative and exploratory approaches to math concepts, without neglecting the importance of some drill and no-nonsense math practice.

This CD-ROM is so comprehensive, it is hard to demand improvements. Note, though, that there is no sign-in process, so that the program doesn't "remember" multiple users' progress. As well, most activity areas stay at approximately the same level of difficulty.

Rainbow Rock helps children to think creatively and independently, and is very well-rounded. Due in part to its high entertainment level, this program might help to kindle an interest in children who aren’t particularly enamored with math. At the very least, it makes the subject of mathematics very approachable. As well, low system requirements ensure that families who don’t have the latest model PC can use the program.

Our 4, 6, and 10 year old testers, amazingly, each found much to explore and learn with this single program (though the 10 year old wasn't hugely challenged, he still enjoyed playing the arcade games). The content here is probably most appropriate for American and Canadian children in first through early third grade. Children at a first-grade level should enjoy the program immediately. Though many of the challenges will be beyond their abilities, the program will grow along with their budding math abilities.

This CD was submitted for review from a reader who has used the program for many months with his 7-year-old daughter. He was so impressed with the program that he wanted to share his "find" with others.

Note that there are supplementary materials available in the form of workbooks and textbooks that complement the program’s activities, and these are sold separately -- see the link below for more information.

Technically Speaking

Minimum requirements are Windows 3.1,/95/98, 486DX 100 MHz, 8 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM. Mac users require a 68040 or higher, 8 MB RAM, System 7.1, and 2X CD-ROM.

Skills Covered

problem solving, creativity, counting, addition, addition with carrying, subtraction, subtraction with carrying, early multiplication, multiplication, division, word problems, early geometry, shapes, estimation, hundreds, tens, and ones, fractions, arcade skills, completing patterns, visual comparisons, visual discrimination.

Educational Value

Each subject area contains a variety of modes – children learn math concepts, explore what they’ve learned, apply them in activities, and then develop and expand their skills through "challenges". The approach used here is one that emphasizes exploration and discovery. Children are given the chance to use onscreen manipulatives to help them solve problems, where appropriate. When errors are made, the program cleverly helps children correct them, and if kids are still struggling, they are then shown the correct answer.

Entertainment Value

This program keeps kids keenly interested and engaged with its fun prehistoric setting, child-like and encouraging narrator, and variety of things to do.

Design

The interface is very intuitive, making this CD-ROM easy for children to explore independently. Instructions and help are adequate, and feedback is excellent – when children make errors, they are told "that’s not quite right", and often the areas that were answered incorrectly are highlighted. If children then make another mistake, the correct answer is offered, generally with explanations given. The care and thought that went into the program is evident throughout.

Replayability

With a wonderful quantity and variety of activities, this program will hold up well after many, many hours of play. As well, there is enough challenge to be found so that the program can grow with a single child and, depending on their ages, appeal to more than one child in a family.

Dollar Value

This program can be purchased in the US for approximately $35.

Released: 1998

Reviewed: January 2001