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Review CornerSoftware
Arthur's Preschool
Rating: Rating
The Bottom Line
Packed with "smart" features and a good range of educational content, this program is a little on the academic side, but cute personalization features, adorable graphics, and the Arthur franchise itself keep the game engaging.
Award
Ages: 3-5  Subject: Early Learning  Brand: Mattel Interactive
Review Sections: Product Overview  Entertainment Value  Technically Speaking  Design  Skills Covered  Replayability  Educational Value  Dollar Value
 
 
image Product Overview
Somehow Arthur, the bespectacled 9-year-old aardvark, has found his way into the hearts of not only third-graders, but children as young as preschoolers! Maybe it's D.W., his saucy and intellectual little sister, that preschoolers identify with. Or, young children might be attracted to the warm family atmosphere and realistic interplay between characters. Whatever the reason, there are plenty of young Arthur fans who will revel at the opportunity to play and learn with this charming little gang. Whether it's digging up letters with Baby Kate in the sandbox, or identifying emotions with Muffy, kids will be practicing a large range of skills with their favorite characters.

A small but stand-out feature has Arthur calling your child by name! This creates a wonderfully personal environment — testers loved this feature. Note, however, that it doesn't recognize all names. If your child's name isn't as popular as most, it's best to test it first before telling your child about this feature. Arthur still talks "to" your child regardless of whether his/her name is included in the software's database. Kids also enter their favorite color and pet, as well as their birthdate. Special animated surprises occur when they play the game on their real-life birthday, and every other day their favorites are incorporated into gameplay.

Part of the LearningBuddies line, this package comes with 2 CD-ROMs. The main disc (Disc 1) is entitled Arthur's Afternoon Adventure. The box describes the program as "packed" and it doesn't lie — there are a whopping 12 interactive activities altogether. Each multi-level activity stars a character from the Arthur PBS series/books. For example, a favorite activity has players digging out partially covered letters of the alphabet from the sandbox for Baby Kate. We love the fact that kids need to discern complete letters from parts. In the puppet house, kids help put together puppets for Mr. Ratburn according to pattern or logical association. For example, on the easiest level, kids match a cow head to a cow body. The next level requires kids to match clowns' hats to the pattern on their costumes and on the third level, kids might be required to drag a cowboy hat onto a cowboy body.

Another notable activity takes kids to a ball field where they click on an automatic pitching machine. After Francine bats the balls onto the field, kids count them by clicking on them, then finding the correct numeral on the board that defines the total. Kids build bridges for ladybugs with leaves, flowers, and sticks (see at left) with Binky and Arthur as their guides. The Mount Blushmore activity involves identifying emotions, such as surprised, happy, and silly, from the expressive faces of Muffy's family members. D.W. needs help sorting coins into piggy banks according to size (not face value, thankfully!).

Children earn stars that they can "trade in" for prizes online and printable certificates that contain activities like dot-to-dots. These reward certificates are adorable with animations and songs! These serve as powerful motivators.

This LearningBuddies title is equipped with PALS technology that has customization capabilities that are rather powerful.

An Assessment game is available. It consists of 3 multiple choice questions that help determine where a child is "placed" in some of the activities. This is probably unnecessary for children of this age and not hugely comprehensive either.

Clicking on the star on the screen in any given activity brings up a Preferences screen in which you can control the music volume, turn the printer on or off, check on progress in Goal Checker, and turn Auto Leveling on or off. There is a progress report designed for parents as well (the Goal Checker is a more kid-friendly visual report).

Disc 2: Activity Center contains the following:

  • In Music Machine, kids choose from 4 instruments — the piano, clarinet, flute, or drums — and compose songs and experiment with sounds.
  • Card Creator allows children to design their own printable greeting cards using Arthur graphics. Children love this activity!
  • Print Activities allow for fun, printable, away-from-the-computer activities that include cut and paste, color and learn, and puzzles and games. These print-outs are lovely and age-appropriate. The simple mazes, craft instructions, matching and sorting activities, and more, will entertain kids off the computer.
Kids familiar with other Arthur Learning Buddies titles will recognize these activities. The printable activities are superb and help to extend learning beyond the computer.

Strengths & Weaknesses:

Arthur and his friends are extremely popular characters, and they translate to the computer successfully. This program is packed with things to do and all the features we look for in a good software program. The animations are quite clever and occur naturally through the activities — as kids play, leaves blow by, a cat saunters onto the screen, and bugs flutter about. Sometimes a piggy bank will dance a little jig, complete with the sound effects of rattling coins as he shakes, when a child completes an exercise successfully.

Smart features abound. The program's ability to tailor the experience to an individual child's skills is wonderful. When a child breezes through a couple of exercises in any given activity, Arthur will suggest moving to a higher level. When a child is struggling with an exercise, the correct answer is highlighted and Arthur gives feedback and further instructions to help the process along.

There are loads of verbal instructions, which can be either positive or negative, depending on your preferences. The chattiness might be distracting for some kids. All instructions can be "clicked through", but the result is a lot of incomplete sentences. This is not serious, however, and certainly it is better to have too much help than too little!

Sometimes the differences from one difficulty level to the next are subtle, other times more dramatic. All in all, difficulty levels provide appropriate challenge for the needs of differently-skilled preschoolers, as well as the growing needs of any one child.

To boot, this title comes with 2 free children's movie passes valid at many popular theaters in the USA and Canada until November 2001. Regular movie-goers will find this helps pay for the software.

Technically Speaking
Minimum requirements are Windows 95/98 or NT 4.0, a 486/66 MHz, 16 Mb RAM, and 2X CD ROM. Mac users require a 60 MHz Power PC with 16 Mb RAM, System 7.1 or higher, and at least 2X CD ROM.

Skills Covered
letter names, vocabulary, letter identification, letter sounds, numbers, counting, matching, sorting, simple arithmetic, spatial relationships, music composition, instruments, crafts, coloring, drawing, shapes, colors, noticing differences, recognizing emotions, following directions, simple coordination, creativity

Educational Value
Lots of preschool skills are covered in this program — it is very comprehensive. While many activities test skills, some do teach them in a basic way, and certainly the program does a great job of reinforcing skills.

Entertainment Value
The Arthur franchise, bright graphics, cute animations, and fun activities combine to make a very entertaining package. Preschoolers will be tickled when Arthur calls them by name, provided their names are one of the 500 incorporated into the program. Arthur and friends make delightful companions.

Design
The design is superb. All the features we want to see in a curriculum-based software program are included here. Levels are adjustable, help is readily available and personal, and the interface is perfect for little ones.

Replayability
Loads of activities are included in this 2 CD-ROM package. No one will be complaining that there is not enough to do!

Dollar Value
This CD-ROM sells for $30 US, packing a whole lot of value into one purchase.

Released: 2000
Reviewed: June 2000