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Review Corner Best Educational Software
Vocabulary Puzzles Grade 1
Rating:  4.5 star rating
The Bottom Line
Children who are developing skills with the written word will benefit from, and thoroughly enjoy, this CD-ROM/workbook set. It features simple crosswords, codes, word searches, rebus puzzles, and riddles that are entirely age-appropriate for first graders.
Ages: 6-7  Subject: Reading/Pre-reading  Brand: School Zone Interactive
Review Sections:  Product Overview  Entertainment Value  Technically Speaking  Design  Skills Covered  Replayability  Educational Value  Dollar Value
image Product Overview

One of the most entertaining ways for kids to practice language arts skills is to solve word puzzles. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to find word puzzles that first graders can confidently master. Enter this delightful CD-ROM/workbook set. Vocabulary Puzzles Grade 1 is ideal for children who are at a first-grade reading level, as it allows them to experiment with basic words by solving fun word searches, simple crosswords, riddles, and more. It offers a surprisingly effective way to reinforce and develop skills like spelling, vocabulary, and reading.

Like many On-Track software titles in the School Zone Interactive series, this title challenges children to complete sets of 30 exercise pages. Each virtual workbook page is decorated with adorable illustrations, comes with instructions in both audio and text formats, and features rows of icons at the bottom of the page that help kids track their progress in the set. Once children are satisfied with their answers on any particular page, they click on a forward-arrow icon and the page is then automatically graded. In order to earn a certificate and gain unlimited access to the program's arcade games, kids need to display 100% mastery of the 30 pages. The system works well because kids can easily return to pages containing errors, and there is no time limit placed on making corrections. When children are required to correct the errors they have made, they actively learn from their mistakes. This is a powerful and rewarding educational experience that is often missing in educational software programs on the market.

Some of the program's exercises take the form of basic riddles. One shows word-labeled pictures of familiar places, like a school, house, and store. Kids need to read a riddle (such as "you buy things here"), and then type in their answer. Another workbook page requires children to fit words into spaces based solely on their shape. Rebus puzzles give kids a chance to boost their vocabulary with compound words (such as flower + pot = flowerpot). A crossword puzzle page contains riddles like "fire feels like this". A number of pages are devoted to codes that kids must decipher--sure-fire kid-pleasers!

The puzzles give kids the opportunity to develop skills with words that are organized into categories, like days of the week, months of the year, opposites, question words (why, what, who, etc.), homophones (such as to and two), various adjectives (such as words that describe weather), number words, color words, and groups of words for each vowel in both long and short forms.

Children are rewarded with arcade-style games throughout the program. The games include a sorting challenge in which kids quickly sort images in a logical manner (for example, with a summer theme); direct a clown up and down a ladder in order to pop balloons that are not the same color of his shirt; and help propel balls of yarn into baskets by maneuvering a cat such that the yarn bounces off its back.

This title is impressive for its variety of exercises, which helps keep interest levels high. Kids are treated to animated surprises in addition to the enjoyable exercises and games. The only down side we found with the program is that the crosswords are a little tricky to do for kids in first grade--not due to educational content, but rather because navigating the puzzle grid is somewhat challenging. All things considered, however, Vocabulary Puzzles Grade 1 is an excellent program. It's our favorite title to date in the School Zone Interactive "electronic workbook" line.

Technically Speaking
Minimum system requirements are Windows 95/98 or higher, 32 MB RAM, Pentium 166 MHz, 4X CD-ROM, and 50 MB free hard drive space. Mac users require a PowerPC 150 MHz or faster, OS 7.6.1 or higher, 32 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM, and 50 MB free hard drive space.

Skills Covered
Players develop vocabulary, reading, and spelling skills with parts of speech, compound words, antonyms, letter sounds, rhyming words, plurals, proper nouns, homophones, and adjectives.

Educational Value
This title offers early readers the chance to "play" with words in creative and fun ways, helping to inspire a love of words at a crucial developmental stage. The puzzles give kids plenty of opportunities to practice spelling, reading, vocabulary, and writing (typing) skills in a playful setting. Children are required to correct their errors before they can earn a certificate, which is a realistic and rewarding educational experience.

Entertainment Value
Three arcade-style games act as rewards for completed exercises, but even the exercises themselves are highly entertaining! Age-appropriate puzzles, including kid-pleasers like codes and riddles, will be well-received by most first-graders.

The design of this game is simple and pleasing, lending itself well to independent play. What to do is clearly laid out on each page through both audio and text-based instructions. Kids can interrupt animations, instructions, and even games with a simple click of the mouse. When kids return to the program after a hiatus, they can easily pick up where they left off.

Though the format of the workbook pages is the same for each session, the problems on the pages are shuffled, keeping things fresh when children return to the program. Both the presentation and the exercises themselves are highly motivating.

Dollar Value
This set includes a CD-ROM and a colorful printed workbook, and carries a suggested retail price of $19.99 US.

Released: 2001
Reviewed: February 2002