Alphabet games, counting, coloring, and sorting virtually all preschool programs incorporate these basic learning exercises. But what makes Winnie the Pooh Preschool special is its utterly charming storyline that gives little ones the feeling that they are truly involved and helping out a beloved friend, Winnie the Pooh.
A gorgeously animated video, in which Pooh struggles with the feeling that he is "forgetting to remember" something, opens the program and immediately sweeps kids up. When it dawns on Pooh that it is Eeyore's birthday, he wants to visit all of his friends to share the news. At this point, preschoolers get a chance to choose the house or location they want to visit first whether it's Piglet's house, a special tree, or any of the other seven locales in Hundred Acre Wood. No matter where they click, the narrator reminds them that they are very much involved in a wonderful story! For example, if children select Tigger's house, they are told, "And so, Pooh set off to find Tigger."
Activities all tie in with the story, and charming sequences show Pooh interacting with his Hundred Acre Wood buddies. Rabbit, for example, needs help labelling his jars of vegetables and fruits, and once kids have helped him out, he decides that a jar of preserves will make a fine gift for Eeyore. Kanga and Roo need to make alphabet soup for the party, but there are letters of the alphabet missing!
Many of the activities have adjustable difficulty levels that are child-controlled. The grandfatherly narrator provides words of encouragement and congratulations, and is always around to make helpful suggestions. Pooh's voice accompanies kids wherever they go. Parents will find his comments as endearing as their preschoolers do. The very fact that Pooh is, quite characteristically, unsure of himself and confused makes helping him out all the more fun.
All of the basics are covered in the program's activities. Children examine pictures and attempt to color their paintings in a like manner at Piglet's house. On the highest level of difficulty, they need to mix colors to make new ones. Players load pipes into Tigger's music machine after matching the sounds they hear with the correct pipes. Owl is sorting through his family photographs, but finds the task rather "confounding." Players help sort the photos by grouping similar ones together. As levels advance, the pictures become increasingly more similar. Rabbit's jars of fruits and vegetables need to be labelled with numerals, filled with specific numbers of different produce, or both, depending on the level of difficulty. The alphabet-soup activity requires kids to add missing letters of the alphabet to the big pot of soup. They work with both lower- and uppercase letters as they add letter noodles and food items that begin with each letter (e for egg, z for zucchini, etc.) to the pot. Roo's toys have tumbled out of their boxes, and kids help clean up by sorting the toys by theme such as "a rainy day" or "musical instruments." There is even a dream sequence in which Pooh needs to climb clouds to get to his friends or a big pot of honey. Children complete logical picture sentences, such as determining what happens when an ice cream cone is paired with the hot sun.
Finally, a foreign language activity (new to this 2001 version) rounds out the cross-curriculum learning. The presentation of this latest addition is very charming Pooh stumbles upon a special tree that repeats the words that he speaks in either Spanish or French (parents select the language by pressing Ctrl-F on the navigation screen). Objects, numbers, and colors appear in Pooh's thought bubble. Children watch as Pooh speaks their names into the hollow in the tree, and wait for their foreign language equivalent to be called out from its depths. At one point, Pooh even breaks out into song, singing about shapes like diamonds and squares, and the special tree dutifully translates these into the selected foreign language. Children loved this activity!
When all activities have been explored and played a given number of times, the party begins. There is a surprise ending that children may react to in different ways. It is discovered that it wasn't Eeyore's birthday after all, but a "not-birthday" party ensues just as well. This ending contains a small lesson about friendship, but might confuse younger children who have been working earnestly towards making the birthday happen all along.
Pooh's Print n Learn Center holds a number of printing projects. Workbook pages that include letter and number tracing, letter matching, mazes, and more, are all here, ready to send to the printer. Colorful cutouts, flashcards, and personalized bookmarks and nametags are also available for printing.
Because of the rather involving story line and educational content, Winnie the Pooh Preschool Plus is most appropriate for more advanced preschoolers. In fact, many kindergarten-age children will find the program just right for their skill levels. Though the packaging suggests the game is appropriate for children as young as two, be aware that two and three year olds will need some help. However, chances are, with the charm and gentle humor of the program, parents or older siblings will actually want to pull up a chair and join in the fun.
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95/98/ME, Pentium 133, 32 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM, 16-bit DirectX-compatible sound card, 256 DirectX-compatible video card, and 35 MB free hard disk space. Mac users require a G3 processor 233 MHz, System 8.6 through 9.x, 32 MB RAM, and 8X CD-ROM. This product carries disclaimers for both Windows 2000 and Mac OS X users Disney cannot guarantee compatibility with either operating system.
Preschoolers develop skills in number recognition, counting, auditory discrimination, music appreciation, sequencing, sorting, deductive reasoning, French and/or Spanish vocabulary, object identification, alphabetic order, letter recognition, matching upper- and lowercase letters, following directions, colors and color mixing, and shape identification.
Kids work with numbers, letters, shapes, and colors, and are introduced to a foreign language (either Spanish or French). As well, they learn plenty of new vocabulary words, hone their listening skills, and think logically in order to sort objects and predict outcomes. Three difficulty levels are available, ensuring that the often widely differing skill levels of preschoolers are accommodated. The program does assume some exposure to letters and numbers, so children requiring an introduction to these basics might first try other programs to acquire these skills. Younger preschoolers will likely need help with some of the activities.
Children who love a good story will take to this program like, well, Pooh to honey. The program very successfully makes kids feel like their participation is vital to the story! Animations and commentary are superbly presented.
For the most part, navigation is intuitive. We were unable to interrupt animations and chatter, but our testers were so caught up in the game, they didn't feel the need to. Less patient children may get antsy, however. Preschoolers will need to complete all of the activities before the party takes place, and since the path in the program is non-linear, they may need some help finding them all.
A real sense of purpose results from the engaging story of Pooh's plans for a surprise birthday party for Eeyore. This adds tremendous value to replayability because children will want to help out all the way to the end. Even so, the activities are fun enough to stand alone and invite repeat play.
This CD-ROM carries a suggested retail price of $19.95 US.
Reviewed: September 2001