Perhaps more aptly considered an early-reading skills program, this "electronic workbook" provides solid workbook-style practice for first-graders. Children work through a series of exercises that include filling in missing letters to spell basic words, identifying words with long and short vowels, and working with simple rhymes.
With giggling stars indicating exercises are correctly answered, arcade-style games, and sweet animated interludes, this program takes much of the tedium out of skills practice. Of course, kids type in missing letters and use their mouse to move words into their correct positions instead of writing them out. Writing practice is essential – especially for children in first grade – thus parents probably shouldn’t consider this program a complete replacement for workbook activities. Fortunately, the CD-ROM comes packaged with the printed workbook on which it is based.
The "puzzles" included provide first graders with the opportunity to explore word patterns that help improve spelling and reading fluency. Examples and audio instructions are given for each type of puzzle.
Noteworthy benefits of this electronic workbook include instant grading and instructions that are read aloud. Children work through an entire session before they go back to correct their errors. Though the program never discourages children when they make errors, they won’t get away without correcting them! In this sense, the program has a no-nonsense approach to practicing basic spelling. However, cute animations and "recess" breaks taking the form of games help make this practice rewarding and fun.
The arcade-style games are sometimes nerve-wracking, but they can be skipped if so desired. One game in particular was hard for kid testers (and even myself) to master.
Minimum requirements are Windows 95/98 or higher, Pentium, 24 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM. Mac users require a Power PC 601 or higher, 24 MB RAM, System 7.5.5, and 4X CD-ROM. It requires 50 MB of hard drive space.
word recognition, basic spelling, beginning and ending sounds, alphabetic order, opposites, short and long vowels, rhyming words, spelling patterns
This electronic workbook emphasizes skills practice. As such, kids won’t receive lessons in phonics and spelling, per se. However, many parents will welcome this style of program that helps reinforce basic skills. The educational content is entirely age-appropriate. Off-the-computer activities take the form of a high-quality, colorful printed workbook as well as printable personalized worksheets.
A straightforward design with giggling stars, games, and adorable animations help to engage children and distract them from the fact that they are actually doing school work.
The design is simple and entirely intuitive. Children simply click on the instruction sentences to hear them read aloud, complete the puzzles on-screen, then click on a school bus for automatic grading of their work. Once a session is complete, children are brought back to the workbook pages containing errors so that they can correct their mistakes.
Exercises are sequential, but randomized and varied enough so that children should remain engaged from start to end. "Recess" breaks act as rewards, and randomized puzzles keep the program relatively fresh.
This CD-ROM set is reasonably priced at approximately $20 US, and comes with a quality companion School Zone printed workbook.
Reviewed: December 2000