Focus on Early Learning


As we all know, learning begins the moment we are born. From very early on, children begin to form the groundwork for their developing minds. Engaging a child's interest in learning can only serve to improve their educational prospects as they grow older. With that in mind, this month's Focus On will take a look at Early Learning software. By "Early Learning," we refer to software that is targeted at teaching key concepts to children in the pre-K to grade 5 age. We will begin with a few titles that take a general approach to thinking, creativity and yes, even early computer skills.


IBM's Crayola Magic 3D Coloring Book Favorite Places offers children a selection of over 100 coloring pages that include color-by-number and connect-the-dot images. As children color, the images are shadowed realistically, emerging as lifelike, three-dimensional works of art.

The CD-ROM features five different coloring book categories based on popular children's themes: Around Town, Circus, Fantasy, Space and Vehicles. The coloring book uses Crayola's 64 classic colors (which can transform to "glitter" crayons with the click of a button), 20 textures (from zebra skin to daisy patterns) and five wacky tools. One of these "wacky tools" is a paint hose that lets children effortlessly color fantastic images in 3D over and over again, with dozens of pre-rendered patterns and reward animations.

This software is intended to help develop children's visual skills, creativity and fundamental computer skills. It is available for Windows PCs only.

Timmy, Edmark's favorite world traveler, is headed for Russia and France in Travel the World with Timmy! Deluxe. With Timmy as their guide, pre-Kindergarten to second-grade students travel through five different countries on a multi-cultural journey where they learn how people of other cultures live, speak, sing, dress and play.

Along with Russia and France, kids travel to Argentina, Japan and Kenya. On their travels, students can enhance their awareness of these countries, compare similarities and differences, practice cross-curricular skills and develop an ear for languages. The CD, available for Windows and Mac, offers numerous learning activities, including singing along with native songs, playing problem-solving games, composing stories and building creativity skills with arts and crafts.

Each destination provides several ways to reinforce skills in pre-reading, pre-writing, numbers, language and problem solving. Students practice reading and storytelling by selecting characters, settings and actions to create stories in Swahili, Japanese, Spanish, Russian or French. They can hear and see numbers corresponding to quantities of items in the Build-A-Village section. Creativity is encouraged with exercises using native songs and art while thinking skills are addressed with a number of challenging games.

With computers becoming an integral part of education at all levels, familiarity with a keyboard is something that can no longer be pushed off until high school. With that in mind, Knowledge Adventure offers Kid Keys 2.0, a CD-ROM that teaches pre-K to 2nd grade children the keyboarding skills they need to prepare them for a lifetime of using computers. This new version takes kids on an adventure in the Keystone Castle that features art, animation, digitized speech, music and sound effects designed to help reinforce children's learning.

The CD teaches young learners the alphabet, the computer keyboard and how to use a mouse. Activities cover the most basic aspects of typing and keyboard control, such as key location and typing words and sentences. Also, by learning the location of letters on the keyboard, children will reinforce their knowledge of letters and the alphabet.

A playful, on-screen keyboard has big, easy-to-find letters and lively characters to introduce each letter. Mouse and keyboard lessons are tailored to small hands, making them more accessible to small children. On-screen Helping Hands also help to show correct finger position.

The next two titles deal with the mysterious world of math, introducing early learners to key mathematical concepts in an engaging way.

Blue's 123 Time Activities, from Humongous Entertainment in collaboration with Nickelodeon, brings the playful learning approach of Blues Clues to the world of numbers. Preschoolers can practice pre-math and problem-solving skills with Blue and her friends. Individually-paced, multi-level learning activities help kids develop logical thinking and deductive reasoning skills, practice simple math and explore numerical estimation and prediction.

In this hybrid CD-ROM for Windows 95/98 and Macintosh, preschoolers can join Blue at the Backyard Fair where they strengthen early math skills by exploring a variety of activities. They can add and subtract building supplies to help construct a train ride for the fair, weigh and compare fair souvenirs, or join in a card game of counting, matching and strategy, among other activities. By collecting Blue Dollars at each activity, players can help Blue win one of the prizes at the Prize Tent.

For students in grades 3 to 5 comes Summit from The Denali Project. Summit includes over 500 lessons in math and reading, as well as a management system designed to ease teacher administration and to dynamically branch if students have trouble with given concepts. The management system gives detailed reports about objectives mastered, time spent on objectives and the overall progress of each student. It also provides proficiency-based assessment embedded within the lessons.

The mathematics curriculum correlates to NCTM standard and emphasizes the importance of math in students' everyday lives. Strands of instruction include whole numbers, measurement, fractions, decimals and percents, geometry, statistics and probability, as well as algebraic ideas. The reading curriculum teaches basic and higher-level reading strategies, such as literature comprehension. Lessons cover things like context clues, main idea, analogies, prefixes and reading comprehension.

Finally, the last two titles in this month's Focus On take unique approaches to developing the reading skills of young students.

M-ss-ng L-nks from Sunburst helps students in grades 3 to 8 use context clues to decipher passages where various letters are missing. It offers a choice of literature, science and encyclopedia passages, as well as the opportunity to make custom-made passages, all on a single Windows/Macintosh hybrid CD-ROM.

The program offers seven different puzzle formats. In addition to missing vowels, challenges include seeing only the first and last letters in each word, passages where every other letter is hidden and passages where every second (or nth selection up to eighth) word is missing. Other choices are: every other letter is hidden, only the first letter of each word is shown, all consonants are hidden, and all letters are hidden.

It is designed to help young students increase comprehension, make better use of context when reading, build vocabulary and improve spelling skills. The Literature section in the program includes passages from 13 award-winning children's books. In the Science section, passages discuss scientific topics and principles. M-ss-ng L-nks also records a student's progress for each particular passage and for overall achievement.

From the Learning Company comes Reader Rabbit's 2nd Grade. It includes many exploratory activities that allow children to roam and have fun while learning. Six engaging activities approach learning in different ways and cover the topics of reading and math skills, beginning grammar and writing skills, science skills, geometrical shapes and spatial sense.

This Windows/Macintosh hybrid CD-ROM includes four levels of progressive challenges to keep students motivated. Printable pages allow students to see their own work, even letting them publish their own stories. Using the record-and-playback feature, children can record their ideas, unencumbered by the mechanics of typing, and replay them before they begin to write.

The CD features an engaging storyline in an interactive format that allows students to always be in control as they do things to reinforce their knowledge and skills. It offers both multiple game goals (to explore, to master, to create) and tangible rewards (points and frequent progress checks) to help players stay motivated throughout the game. In an attempt to appeal to diverse abilities, preferences and learning styles of 2nd graders, it presents information in multiple modes, including written text, dialogue and illustrations.


--Jim Schneider

[email protected]


Contact Information

Crayola Magic 3D Coloring Book Favorite Places
Somers, NY
(800) 320-8377

Travel the World with Timmy! Deluxe
Redmond, WA
(800) 691-2985

Kid Keys 2.0
Knowledge Adventure
Torrance, CA
(800) 545-7677

Blue's 123 Time Activities
Humongous Entertainment
Bothell, WA
(800) 499-8386

The Denali Project
Okemos, MI
(877) 347-1629

M-ss-ing L-nks
Pleasantville, NY
(800) 321-7511

Reader Rabbit's 2nd Grade
The Learning Company
Novato, CA
(800) 685-6322

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.