The exceptional early math CD-ROM Piggy in Numberland now has a new "star". The personable - and perhaps more marketable - Stuart Little now leads kids into a magical and mathematical world of learning.
With the exception of a charming video introduction and a few choice words, Stuart adds little more to the game than his familiarity. The program sports the same early learning activities and basic goal of the original, with Stuart Little bumping Piggy's status down to co-host. Before this is misconstrued as a negative, however, the original title didn't need much in the improvement department. And, if Stuart's insertion means more children will play the game, then all the better.
Children are transported along with Stuart Little to a world filled with 3D characters and activities that help familiarize young children with numbers from 1-20, basic grouping concepts, addition and subtraction with small numbers, and more. As they play, kids earn "brainpower", gradually filling up portions of Stuart's brain (and, increasing their own brainpower at the same time). There's a wonderful dot-to-dot activity that children are especially motivated to play - each picture can be painted any way kids choose, and then appears "as is" in a beautiful mural. Preschoolers aren't usually expected to learn their numbers beyond 10, but this program introduces numbers up to 20 through this appealing activity. What a simple but powerful method to expose young children to numbers and reinforce them through repetition!
One of the best activities of the bunch is Falling Blocks. Here, kids are taught addition and subtraction in a highly visual manner. Practice with this activity boosts children's abilities to "see" numbers (displayed as bars with units clearly marked), then watch and participate as an operation is performed on that number. For example, a 5-unit bar appears, and the host says "5 take away 2" as 2 units break away from the bar. Children must move the newly-sized bar over the appropriate answer space below so that it falls into the 3-unit, 3-labelled slot. Excellent!
Simple board games can be considered powerful tools for children to learn basic math, as well as skills like patience, strategy, and paying attention to rules. This program incorporates some lovely boardgame-style activities with emphasis on the math concepts behind them. In one, Stuart and other characters take turns navigating a numbered path up a tree, using a spinner to progress. When players spin a 3, they advance 3 spaces up the number-labeled board. If they roll a 4 next time around, they advance to the number 7 square and the program provides an audio and visual reinforcement of the equation 3+4=7. Of course, with luck a factor in any board game, children won't always win even if they know their math.
Another favorite activity is a game of Concentration with a twist. Instead of simply matching numerals with numerals, children must match numbers with sets of objects.
The developer behind this product, Thoughtmakers, never underestimates a child's intuitive understanding of math, and presents preschoolers and kindergartners with concepts that might traditionally be introduced one or two years down the road. At the same time, the company manages to produce products that are never intimidating despite the slightly advanced content.
You can't get more proof of this program's effectiveness than when your preschooler tells you, for example, that 6 take away 2 is 4, and when you probe further (just to be sure she isn't repeating something from memory), you discover that she actually understands the concept behind the equation.
Though the product's gentle and quiet presentation may not be embraced by every child (especially those accustomed to high-energy video games), many will enjoy the board games and activities. We've owned Piggy in Numberland for 2 years, and my children still return to the game.