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Review CornerSoftware
Reader Rabbit Playtime for Baby and Toddler
Rating: five stars
The Bottom Line
With virtually errorless activities and two ways to play, this package is the perfect software introduction to both the computer and the computer mouse. Two full-version titles—one for babies and the other for toddlers—are included. Both titles are friendly and cute enough to charm both children and caregivers.
Award of Excellence
Ages: 9-24 months   Subject: Early Learning  Brand: The Learning Company
Review Sections: Product Overview  Entertainment Value  Technically Speaking  Design  Skills Covered  Replayability  Educational Value  Dollar Value
Reader Rabbit Playtime for Baby and Toddler Product Overview
If you're looking to introduce your young child to the computer and computer mouse, you won't go wrong with this package that bundles two excellent full-version programs, previously released as Reader Rabbit Playtime for Baby and Reader Rabbit Toddler.

Both programs feature a smart system in which tots can interact either by tapping random keys on the keyboard or by swiping the mouse without the need to click. The cursor is a chubby star that fills with smaller stars when it hovers for a moment over a "clickable". Reader Rabbit and Mat the Mouse are guides in these bright and colorful worlds.

In the CD-ROM designed for children ages 9-24 months, Reader Rabbit Playtime for Baby, Mat the Mouse finds herself in a playchest surrounded by ten toys. Each toy leads to an activity, the cutest of which is a virtual shape sorter. In this standout activity, kids move one of three given basic shapes (such as a circle, triangle, and star) over the slots at the top of a curved track. When the shape is close enough to the correctly shaped opening, it is pulled in and then makes its way down the track. See our full (review) of this program.

Reader Rabbit Toddler is the second offering in the package. This exceptional program is particulary useful for acquainting children with the mechanics of "swiping" the mouse. Though it can work with keyboard taps that elicit random responses onscreen, some of its activities ingeniously demonstrate the power of moving the mouse. As a trail of color follows mouse movements, kids learn to move the mouse more deliberately. One of its best activities is Sky Shapers in which children fit colorful shapes into a simple puzzle template. The design of this activity makes it especially easy for children to enjoy success— the shapes are pulled into the correct positions without requiring too much accuracy with the mouse. Another excellent game features patches of flowers or sets of birds that each play like a musical instrument. Kids can turn each "instrument" on or off simply by rolling the mouse over it.

Reader Rabbit Toddler exudes warmth and, for children old enough to pay attention to the screen, elicits smiles. In this charming world, kids can pop bubbles with a magic wand cursor. Some bubbles carry adorable animals that gently drop to the ground after their bubble has been popped. In addition, kids can build familiar objects like trucks and ducks from basic shapes, follow fingerplays with Reader Rabbit to sweet tunes like I'm a Little Teapot, and cause animals to pop out of jack-in-the-boxes simply by rolling the cursor over the boxes' oversized buttons. This program will charm parents along with their children, which is a good thing considering that it is meant to be "lapware" (an adult is expected to play along with, and help guide, young children). Don't despair if your child doesn't find the computer screen interesting just yet. Children develop interest and skills at different times, and there is no rush to get them into the computer chair. Simply pack the programs away and then re-introduce them in a few weeks.

Personalization features are available in both programs. The title for babies includes an option to add Baby's photo, name, and even some choice words (or babbling) spoken into a microphone! When parents add their child's name in the toddler program, it appears from time to time in the coloring activity. For many children in the target age group, their spelled name won't be significant, however. Printable pages are available for both titles. These are quite cute and include simple coloring pages of scenes that are taken from the programs.

The Learning Company took care and responsibility by emphasizing the importance of parental involvement with the programs. An introductory video features a father and young child enjoying the program together, and emphasizes having fun as an important goal.

Technically Speaking
Minimum requirements are Windows 95/98, a Pentium 90, 16 Mb RAM, and 4X CD-ROM. Mac users require a PowerPC Mac with 16 Mb RAM, System 7.5.1 or higher, and 4X CD ROM. The program requires 45 Mb of hard drive space.

Skills Covered
computer skills, mouse skills, language development, auditory discrimination, coordination, kinesthetic development, cause and effect, sound patterns, visual patterns, tracking, predicting, matching, letters, numbers, counting, body parts, identifying emotions, music appreciation, identifying animal sounds.

Educational Value
Key concepts like shapes, colors, numbers, and letters are all here, waiting to be discovered. The programs' clear speech and audio labeling of images are excellent for developing vocabulary. Music, names of animals and body parts, and wonderful fingerplays that accompany songs all boost the educational value of the package.

Entertainment Value
The programs' bright colors, fun songs, and cheerful language will attract children who are ready to take interest in images on the computer screen. Most young children will remain interested for short periods of time, not for any fault of the programs, but due to their short attention spans. This program is so bright and cheerful, it is sure to entertain. The youngest baby in the target age group (9 months) may not be developmentally ready to focus on the screens, but many eighteen-month-olds will find the scenes fun and attractive. Reader Rabbit and Mat the Mouse are enthusiastic hosts, and the voices and songs are warm.

The system used in both programs in the set is excellent. Young children can either tap on the keyboard for a random on-screen reaction, or use the mouse to swipe without the need for accurate clicking. Even so, children who have learned to click (and adults navigating the program for their kids) will receive the appropriate responses. Options for parents are wisely tucked away—users need to hold down two designated keys at once in order to access parent areas, so it is unlikely toddlers will get to these screens.

Replay value for both programs in the set is strong. These programs score high for visual and audio interest, and feature plenty of things to do.

Dollar Value
Suggested retail price for this set is only $19.99 US.

Released: 2001
Reviewed: March 2002