This is an updated version of JumpStart Baby a program that was bright and appealing, but a little tricky to use. Though a sweet little bear named Teddy still hosts the game, most activities in this deluxe version are brand-new. Additionally, new features have been added that help bring this product into the 21st century.
At the heart of this package is a wonderful introductory software program that parents can play along with their baby or toddler (and, in fact, toddler is probably a more realistic age group). It can be thought of as a shared digital storybook activity with much to offer. For one, it is designed so that parents can personalize the program with photos and audio of familiar people in a young child's life siblings, mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, and even the family pet.
Kids start the program in Teddy's room, which serves as a gateway to the CD-ROM's nine early learning activities. Activating the Music Box area allows children to listen to some tried-and-true children's songs as they watch the adorable animal characters taking turns belting out verses. Any mouse click or press of a key on the keyboard will prompt a new animal to pick up where the last animal left off. Though Frog Hopping seems simplistic at first, it offers the opportunity for a caregiver and young user to control different sized frogs simultaneously an adult controls the large frog with the mouse, and the child uses the keyboard to make the little frog hop on the shells of colorful turtles. When both frogs land on the same turtle, one falls splashing into the water! Some instant favorites include an activity in which a big-eyed "TV baby" performs fingerplays to familiar songs including Where is Thumbkin, a video phone activity in which animated characters take turns saying hello to baby, and Dress-Up that involves "dressing" Teddy appropriately for the weather. None of the activities require children to do anything more complex than tapping a key on the keyboard, and if that is not something baby wants to do, a "helper" can do it for him/her. Note, however, that toddlers who possess rudimentary mouse skills will do better, of course, with a program like JumpStart Toddlers because clicking on specific objects in JumpStart Baby often elicits random responses, which can be confusing to children with budding mouse skills.
There is something in this package for parents too! The bonus JumpStart Baby Book is essentially a digital keepsake scrapbook that can be exported in html format for sharing on the Internet. Here, parents can import photos of their baby to the "book" in order to commemorate important milestones like first smiles and first steps in their child's life. A log of dental records and birth information can be kept here as well.
The program does succeed as a stand-alone product even if parents don't choose to use the unique Connect and Play feature, which involves sending the second CD in the package to a remote relative so that he/she can play along with baby via the Internet. Though it is an original concept, it may be a mite ambitious. We're uncertain whether this feature will get much use in practice.
Three of the activities allow parents to import personal photos that can be incorporated into the games. For example, the pictures of Teddy's family members in the Family Tree activity can be replaced with personal photos of baby, siblings, Mommy, Daddy, and other relatives. In Teddy's Talking Phone, it is possible to allow a baby or toddler to "call" Daddy, for example, and a photo (or video) of Daddy will appear onscreen with a personal audio message. The program does some handholding in the customization department, providing clear step-by-step instructions for adding photos, video, and audio. Of course, parents will need to have scanned photos saved to their hard drive in order to make use of this feature.
The program also includes a bonus J*Mail application that requires registration for a Smart ID at www.education.com, and allows users to send and receive emails from relatives. This feature will be lost on children in the targeted age group, however.
It will be important to make sure that the product you are buying is the updated version. Though inside the program it is referred to as a 2001 version, outer packaging doesn't bear the 2001 stamp. Check the copyright date (2000) and note that this updated version is labelled as a Deluxe 2 CD Set.
The whole concept of software designed for babies will be criticized by some. Truth is, there is plenty of time to introduce children to the computer, and there should be no rush to do so. However, as long as parents' expectations are realistic and the program is used as it was intended to be used (as "lapware"), they probably won't be disappointed. It is also important to remember that many babies will not take an interest in software programs until they get closer to the age of two. We don't think that there is any danger of a baby or toddler becoming addicted to or babysat by a computer. Children's short attention spans simply won't allow for that! Parents who consider a program such as this one as yet another interesting activity to enjoy with their little ones will find this CD-ROM very easy to use, graphically appealing, and pleasing.