Frankie the dog is back sporting an updated look and new voice. The first version of JumpStart First Grade appeared on shelves "way back" in 1995. On a personal note, it was one of my kids' first computer games ever and we thought it to be totally outstanding at the time. Over time, though, it did start to show a bit of age (not too much, but some things started to show need of improvement). Well, it's here version 2.0, and it almost looks like an all-new product.
There are some truly significant improvements over the original version. Most apparent are the graphics. The original wasn't too bad to look at, but seeing the updated version will make you think it was. This new version is very nice-looking with bright and gorgeous screens that any child will find appealing (check out the colorful screen at right). The story line has been updated, too. Although the main learning activities still take place in a schoolhouse in the classroom, the cafeteria, the playground, etc. there is an added treasure hunt theme that acts as a bonus and reward for completing certain amounts of activities. You might think, how can a title centering around a schoolhouse incorporate a treasure island theme? Well, as silly as it may sound, it is all tied together very well. Friendly and colorful cartoon animals replace the cartoon humans as teachers and other adult characters, and there is more of an emphasis on phonics and early reading. Most of the games are better too.
Navigation has also improved tremendously. Kids won't look disoriented and question how to quit the program or go to their favorite activity like many did with the first version. It is totally intuitive and the pop-up navigational bar at the bottom of the screen that is humorously in the form of a dog collar is very handy.
There are some things, however, that I miss from the first version. For one, while the original Frankie had a tremendous amount of character, with his interesting humor and saucy talk, the new Frankie is, well... rather ordinary for an animated host. We also miss the extraordinarily fun Servin' Up Fractions activity. Then there's the original JumpStart First Grade song that my kids really loved. But, don't listen to me and my sentimentality (have you ever noticed how we can get very attached to our first programs?) because the new version is really quite super. Plus, my only real criticisms of the game come in the form of comparisons to the original, and kids will not notice.
Ms. Nobel, the teacher, has set up a fun treasure hunt for the class, but clues need to be collected in and around the classroom by playing learning activities. In the classroom, kids play the following:
In the hallway:
- Bean Bag Shooter try to make a row of stars with your bean bags by correctly answering some science questions ("I'm like a snake in the water I'm an eel").
- Lost and Found match words correctly (according to instructions like "match synonyms") in order to pair kids with their lost items.
- Book Club practice reading along with a large selection of books, and answer reading comprehension questions too. The books are quite cute and come in a variety of styles, including nursery rhymes and fairy tales.
In the lunch room:
- Hall Pass fill in the missing times for Floyd, the hall monitor, and at the same time, practice digital and analog time.
In the kitchen:
- Alphabet Soup help put the alphabet noodles in the correct order in the alphabet soup to spell the words Sarge requires. Then, arrange the words in alphabetical order.
- Snack Machine the vending machine will only accept exact change, and kids work with coins to pay for food items.
In the playground:
- The Food Machine place the correct quantities of ingredients into this fabulous machine according to the given recipe, and watch as the food magically appears!
- Pizza Maker learn simple fractions by placing the correct portions of pizza toppings on the pizza as it makes its way on a conveyor belt into the oven. Kids need to be quick to succeed at this game.
In the music room and art room:
- Sandbox use a super bone-finder machine to dig up bones labeled with special words from the sandbox, and match the word with the right category.
- Pogo Stick Drill Teams answer math equations to sort the teams out properly, then place them in the correct numerical order. (I just wish the double-digit addition and subtraction equations were vertical.)
After finding 3 clues, it's off to one of 6 different original treasure islands (with wacky and wonderful themes) to go on an exciting search for treasure. This is a very effective and motivating reward that kids love.
- Painting use backgrounds and virtual stickers/stamps to create a masterpiece.
- Music Machine (the pipe organ) choose one of 5 instruments, different tempos, and various songs to hear some fun tunes. Or, play your own little tune and record and play it back. This is great fun.
- Songs Listen to a number of theme songs, including the main song (Frankie's First Grade Song) and others about staying fit and healthy, and other appropriate subjects.
Some special features have been added, including Kid's Tutor Technology for help with difficult concepts and Kid's Assessment Technology which helps make the learning games just the right fit for each child.
Minimum requirements are Windows 95/98, a Pentium 90, 16 Mb RAM, and 4X CD ROM. Mac users require a Power PC with 11 Mb RAM available, System 7.5 or higher, and at least 4X CD ROM.
phonics, spelling, reading comprehension, addition and subtraction, fractions, greater than/less than concepts, measuring and quantities, counting money and making change, telling time, simple science, parts of speech, synonyms and antonyms, rhyming words, art and creativity, music
As a multi-subject grade-based product, the focus is on a broad range of subjects. As a result, no subject is really covered in a lot of depth. Still, the range is great and children are exposed to some very well-done and age-appropriate learning games.
The treasure hunts, bright and colorful screens, and fun activities all contribute to a highly entertaining program.
The game is designed in a way that makes it very easy to use. The pop-up dog collar can always be accessed simply by moving the cursor to the bottom of the screen, and it holds the icons that allow kids to exit the activities, to check their progress, etc. Automatic leveling helps to minimize frustration and to customize learning games according to a child's performance.
Most kids I know will be very motivated to work through this game. Replay value is high.
The suggested retail price is only $20 US. The program is certainly worth the outlay considering the fun and learning it provides.