Sesame Street Preschool makes a nice souvenir of the highly regarded television series as it launches its thirty-third season. This program boasts original voiceovers, strong coverage of academic basics, and all of the humor that makes Sesame Street almost as enjoyable for parents as it is for their children. Some flaws aside, this is a fun and funny title that had our testers giggling and smiling as they learned.
The hosts of this preschool title are Elmo, Zoe, Bert & Ernie, and Bob (although Bob is heard but not seen). They guide children through a series of educational activities and demonstrations, and provide plenty of (some might say, too much) feedback that is both humorous and true to character. There are five main activities to choose from, and each category features multiple games that are accessible by clicking on large green arrows.
The most entertaining activity is also a powerful lesson in early literacy. It involves creating sentences from pictures--an activity we have seen before, but that is made unique with live-action video clips that demonstrate the sentences kids have built! The sentences can be silly or serious (Elmo, of course, encourages kids to make silly ones), but no matter how nonsensical they turn out to be (for example, "the girl waters the dog"), children get to watch a video clip of the activity.
In the Letters and Words category, children are presented with a series of activities, starting with a game hosted by Elmo. In this, children must determine which letter is the beginning sound for words like map, and work with both upper- and lowercase letters. Moving on, Zoe guides children through an activity in which they explore word families. Then, it's on to Ernie and Bert who challenge children to complete words with missing beginning sounds. The letters of words are highlighted as they are named, successfully drawing attention to themselves. The Numbers activities lead children from an exploration of numerals, to counting demonstrations, followed by an activity in which kids perform simple addition accomplished by counting objects. The final activity allows children to watch short movies featuring the numbers 1 through 20.
Another superb activity, revolving around finding Bert's hidden paperclips, requires some powers of deduction and observation. Children need to find objects that meet specific criteria, such as things that are red, round, and something they can eat. Once kids have uncovered a certain number of paperclips, the paperclips do a little reward "dance". An art section offers simple collage activities with various "stamps", such as photo-realistic objects, building blocks, and designs. While this activity worked in the Sesame Street Toddler program, it's a little simplistic for this age group. A People In Your Neighborhood category allows kids to watch and learn about people with different professions, such as teachers, cobblers, and ice cream men, via song-videos.
Packed with the multi-layered humor that distinguishes the show, this program turns the delightfully dull Bert's predilection for paper clips into a smart activity, catches Elmo offguard with his back to the screen, and shows Sesame Street characters calling out to the "computer guys" to bring up letters on the screen. Screen transitions, backdrops, and graphics remind kids of the show. This is a friendly title that not only packs a visual punch, but offers solid educational opportunities and entertaining sequences.
Despite our raves, the software has some flaws worth noting. Patient children will gladly sit through the characters' chatter, but those who want to move more quickly will be out of luck. There is no way of interrupting most instructions and commentary. Transitions between activities can be slow, and it can be tedious trying to return to a favorite activity if it happens to be buried inside a main category. Note that children should have letter and number recognition skills in order to play many activities; the Sesame Street Toddler title (see our review) does an excellent job of reinforcing these basic recognition skills.
All things considered, however, Sesame Street Preschool makes a good investment. The program doesn't have--and doesn't need--a mission or formal system of rewards. Instead, motivation to play comes naturally as kids laugh and learn along with favorite characters.
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95/98/Me/2000, Pentium-class 266 MHz, 32 MB of RAM, 8X CD-ROM, and 28 MB of hard drive space.
Children learn about numbers, colors, letters, shapes, music, animals, creativity, matching, counting, sorting, listening skills, sounds, vocabulary, alphabetic order, professions.
Activities in each subject area tend to build on the learning in previous ones, giving the program a certain amount of structure despite its free-play approach. Built-in help and leveling systems allow kids to focus on gameplay.
"Happy and fun" is the best way to sum up this humorous program. Sesame Street fans will enjoy their favorite Muppets, who are well-represented in the game, video clips that have a familiar style, and thoroughly engaging graphics.
While slow transitions and an inability to "click through" instructions undermine an otherwise excellent program for some, children prepared to do as much watching as playing will not be disappointed. Navigation is not standard, but it works. We love the fact that, at any time, kids can call up the main activity menu directly on the screen they've been playing on. Difficulty levels auto-adjust according to a child's performance--this is a nice feature that supports continuity for the duration of the game, but it is "lost" after children exit the program. Also, the program's built-in help system means kids who are struggling on a particular concept will receive help finding the correct answers.
A strong amount of content is offered, and the variety of activities helps boost replay value. Although the program is open-ended, its format and auto-leveling system give it just the right amount of structure to motivate children to continue playing.
The suggested retail price for this program is approximately $20 US.
Reviewed: April 2002