Part of the well-done On-Track Software line that cleverly connects learning and fun, this new CD-ROM features workbook lessons dressed up with color, animation, game rewards, and congratulations. Though the colorful School Zone printed workbook that accompanies the software serves as a gentle reminder that kids in the target age group need to practice writing, the software program does a great job of getting kids to practice phonics lessons all on its own.
The phonics exercises offered range from determining beginning consonants of words to completing crosswords. There are word searches and fill-in-the-blank exercises, as well. In other activities, kids feed a robot words according to a specified rule (such as "all the s-blend words"), and add suffixes to create words.
Children can work through each session's 30 pages of exercises in sequential order, or use the 30 color-coded fish that line the bottom of the page to jump from one page to another. Pages that contain errors are flagged red, and children are required to return to them and correct their mistakes before earning their certificates. In case this sounds harsh, it is not! The program is always encouraging and has a sensible, practice-makes-perfect approach that parents will appreciate.
Arcade game breaks include a fast-paced bumper car game, timed tangram puzzles, and a strategy-based tile game. Although all reward games are meant for fun, they each have some learning value too.
The design of Phonics Grades 2-3 is especially refreshing. Audio instructions are provided for each page, and the exercises are corrected as soon as a child wants to advance to the next page. Another outstanding feature of the program is its delivery of truly age-appropriate educational content. Parents can be confident that the level of challenge will neither be too easy or too hard for the grade level marked on the box.
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95/98 or higher, Pentium 166 or faster, 32 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM, 16-bit sound card, and 50 MB hard drive space. Mac users require a PowerPC 150 MHz or higher, System 7.6.1, 32 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM, and 50 MB hard drive space.
Children learn vocabulary, spelling, and reading/phonics skills including beginning consonants, short-vowel sounds, silent e, long-vowel sounds, blends, silent letters, contractions, compound words, plural ending, suffixes, and prefixes.
This program performs as an electronic workbook for skills practice. As such, it doesn't attempt to teach children phonics in an in-depth manner. However, as a supplement to learning, this title shines. It delivers content that is fun yet practical, and it comes with a printed workbook and printable worksheets for off-the-computer learning.
With a collection of some of the most adorable animated rewards, simply enjoyable arcade games, and an interface that totally supports independent play, completing workbook pages couldn't possibly be more fun. Considering the clear educational focus of the CD-ROM, it may be surprising that kids don't seem to want to stop playing the program.
The program probably could not have been easier to use. Children will be able to play the game without ever wondering what to do next.
Randomized exercises mean additional sessions seem fresh and new, and surprisingly fun game-play keeps kids coming back for more. The producers of the School Zone series have stumbled upon an excellent formula that works and keeps kids happily working too.
This program carries a suggested retail price of $19.99 US.
Reviewed: October 2001