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Schooling Your Computer

These days, computer hardware and software are part of the supply list for children returning to school. Here's a quick update on some of the products available for schoolchildren, from Robin Raskin, editor-in-chief of Family PC magazine.

There are three broad categories of educational software:

  • Drill and practice. These products drill children on facts, like math, foreign language, and history, and there is only one "right" answer for every question.
  • Developmental software. These are designed for open-ended creative play and can help children explore and learn. There is no clear start and end points, and the child is free to click the mouse and decide the order in which to play the available options.
  • Tools. Software that helps a student write a paper or do research, such as CD-ROM encyclopedias.
There are many products available for each age group. Here is a sampling of Raskin's recommendations.

For children ages 3-6:

  • Elmo's World. This is based on the popular Sesame Street segment, but it will not be available in stores until November.
  • Blue's Clues. This is an old favorite that allows children to interact with the TV show's characters as they solve simple mysteries.
  • Reader Rabbit helps children learn about language through creative play.
One of the hardware products that can help your child with science is a piece of equipment that attaches to your computer and prompts it to function like a microscope. It also carries some art-enhancement tools that allow you to color whatever you are examining, or even enlarge it.

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For children ages 7-12:
  • Compaq Presario Computer, Model 5304. Raskin says Compaq is one of a few companies that is offering good bargains on hardware through Thanksgiving. You can get this computer for under $300 after a rebate. Raskin warns that you have to keep a sharp eye out for back-to-school deals, because companies are being aggressive about selling computers of similar quality at competitive prices.
  • Magic School Bus is an educational software product from Microsoft that sends children on virtual adventures designed to teach them about the world and the creatures who live here. For instance, on a trip to the rainforests, children ar asked to identify animals that do not belong in that environment.
  • Clue Finders Map gives children mysteries to solve.
For children ages 13-15:
  • Microsoft Encarta is an encyclopedia that allows students some interactive participation. Many entries have video clips so, for instance, a student researching volcanos can see a clip of an actual eruption.
  • Princeton Math Library is designed to help parents review study questions with their children. Parents can use this if they can't answer their children's questions on their own.
There are some other products that are not computer-based but use computer technology that may also help your child.
  • The Little Linguist acts like a "Speak and Say." Your child puts the card in and chooses English, Spanish, French or Japanese. Push a button and it will repeat a greeting, names and simple phrases.
  • The Password Journal is a paper diary in a box that is voice-activated. It is designed to encourage children who are used to computers and typing to actually pick up a pen and write.
  • The Pablo Digital Tablet is a drawing pad that attaches to your computer.
For more information about back-to-school supplies for the home computer, visit the official Web site for Family PC magazine.
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