Educational Software: What's Good, What's Not
Reader Rabbit. Online learning. Leap Pad. How do you figure out what's good for your kids and what out there is just junk food for the brain? Here's the best news I can give you: for the most part, educational software, even the cheap stuff, is well-designed, accurate, and really educational. The few that aren't get winnowed out pretty early. The less-good news is that there's so much out there it's hard to figure out what you really want to buy for your kids. But here are some guidelines. 1. Be aware of your child's mental age and purchase software accordingly. Notice the "mental" age. Children who are intellectually advanced are not going to be enthralled by Reader Rabbit; instead, you need to get them more advanced software, perhaps educational software rated for a grade level or two ahead of where they are. Don't be afraid of it; your kids will tell you if the software sucks. 2. Don't be afraid of computer games, as long as they're thought-stimulating. I'm thinking about Myst or Pharaoh, or any of the Tycoon games; by playing well-designed true games, your kids can learn critical thinking, logic, history, business planning, physics - you'd be amazed what can be taught accidentally. The History Channel has been using a lot of the animation used in Egypt and Roman based games lately to animate their specials (have you noticed how much they look like really good computer games?), which should tell you how historically accurate the games are. But if you go the computer game route, try to encourage outside activities - if they play Pharaoh, they should also be looking up information about pyramids and ancient Egyptian culture and telling you how accurate they think the games are. Other games, like Tetris or Bounce Out, can teach things like spatial orientation and logic. 3. Check out all the educational software yourself. If you get bored with it, chances are your children will too. And if there are things on there you don't want your kids exposed to, you need to know about it before the kids play them. Besides, it's an excuse to play a computer game before your kids. 4. Don't buy educational games that your kids are supposed to play online. Several reasons: there are too many distractions online for kids to be able to focus just on the game. Online there are other people to socialize with, and some of them may not be the most savory. And online portals associated with games tend to cost a lot of money not reflected in the original price of the game. 5. Ask your kid's teachers for recommendations on educational software. They should be able to direct you to quality software your children can use and often suggest things you'd never think about. 6. Switch games often. Kids get bored with the same old thing over and over - and when they don't do anything new, they don't learn anything new. Vary the types of games they play, switch the software around, and don't be afraid of letting younger siblings inherit software from older ones.