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quick picks in children's educational software

Our picks in children's software


In order to provide our readers with ratings for the products that we review, we put software, games, toys, and other products through a number of tests, not the least of which involves hands-on testing with real children and their parents. We strive to make some sense out of the seemingly endless choices parents face when looking for worthwhile products for their children, and attempt to consider the many factors involved that determine whether a product stands out as superior.

The following are our quick picks --excellent children's computer game choices for families. To buy, simply click on the image of the software product or its title:

(See also our quick picks in toys and music).

Math Software:



Math Missions: The Race to Spectacle City Arcade Grades K-2  

"Set in a humorous, cartoon city, this program features innovative activities that include working with pattern blocks, counting change, weighing and measuring, sorting, and more. Children strengthen early mathematical thinking skills in an unusually fun environment. There is no force-feeding of academics in the game, yet it remains challenging and educationally valuable." -- The Review Corner.


Math Missions Grades 3-5

"Set in a humorous, cartoon city, this program features a set of inspired activities that involve working with weights and measurements, fractions, logic, graphing, and more. The game rewards children with the opportunity to own an arcade once they have reached a set game level." -- The Review Corner.


Zoombinis Logical Journey or the bundle: Zoombinis Mini 2 Pack

"Children are drawn to this journey that has them deducing, sorting, and hypothesizing while leading endearing little creatures to freedom - without ever feeling like they are developing mathematical thinking. This fabulous exercise in logical thinking is a must-have classic software title." (Ages 8-up) -- The Review Corner.



Mia's Math Adventure: Just In Time!

"Math exercises and problem solving are expertly equated with fun in this content-rich software sequel. The math activities are incorporated into the storyline but can be accessed independently as well. They are meaningful and attractive when played in the context of the adventure. Activities feature a nice range of math skills at four different challenge levels. The story — complete with cute characters and "bad guys" kids love to hate — will appeal to most children. The program's top-quality movie introduction easily sweeps children up into Mia's world, and as the game advances, the mouse-eye view of the world continues to feature visuals that are stunning. Ages 8-10." -- The Review Corner.



Math Blaster: Master the Basics

"With schools focusing more on problem-solving skills than they are on math facts, it's often up to families to help their kids build math facts at home. With Math Blaster: Master the Basics, kids can do just thateven children who are not enthusiastic about the whole process! Arcade-style and platform-based games present an engaging format for practicing and drilling math facts. This program is ideal for boosting confidence in mental math at home. Ages 6-12." -- The Review Corner.



SET: The Computer Game

"The popular board game, SET, is available for the computer. As players attempt to identify logical sets of three cards by scrutinizing symbols, numbers, colors, and shades, they develop their visual perception and logical thinking skills. The computerized version of the game allows for different levels of play and the ability to play the game when no one else wants to play! Pleasantly addictive game that has educational value., Ages 7-up." -- The Review Corner.



I Love Math

"Exceptional for its range of options that allow parents and kids to customize the game to suit their needs, I Love Math! presents math concepts in an enjoyable way.The Challenge mode is excellent — kids (or their parents) can select topics they need to practice. Children testing the software were generally pleased with it, and their parents found the educational value of the game to be quite high. All in all, this is a nice-looking and interesting mission with plenty of great options to customize the experience for different kids. Ages 7-11." -- The Review Corner.



Math 3

"Workbook pages dressed up with colorful animals and fun arcade-style games given as rewards help take some of the tedium out of math exercises in this sensible skill-building software title. A math workbook alone may not be enough to convince kids to practice math at home, but if it is presented in a multimedia format with fun games as rewards, third-graders will want to jump right in. With fresh graphics, clear audio and printed instructions, animations, and arcade-style game breaks, this software title helps make kids more willing to practice essential math skills at home. Ages 8-9." -- The Review Corner.


Math 2

"This economical package provides a pleasing method for second-graders to practice math skills at home, both on and off the computer. While it doesn't do a lot of teaching, it does provide children with an engaging format that allows them to practice some serious skills. There's simply no escaping the fact that certain fundamentals of math require loads of practice and drill. Parents often turn to workbooks designed for home use as supplements to their children's schoolwork. Now they have the opportunity to get much of the job done on their personal computer. Math Grade 2 presents electronic worksheets with just the right amount of bells and whistles to make practicing math facts, dare we say, fun! Ages 7-8." -- The Review Corner.



Best Language Arts Software:



Jumpstart Reading With Karaoke

"Children learn to sound out small words with this innovative software program that seamlessly incorporates speech recognition into the learning experience. Children learn songs, word by word, and then sing them karaoke-style in a jukebox activity. Strong educational content, and appealing to children ready to read. Ages 5-7." -- The Review Corner.



Clifford the Big Red Dog: Phonics

"Beginning readers will find nothing in this phonics program that is intimidating or overwhelming. A gentle pace and solid free-play activities, as well as a likable theme, are this program's strengths. Although appropriate for any emergent reader, this game is especially useful for children who are reluctant to go further simply because it is pressure-free and encouraging. Ages 4-6." -- The Review Corner.



Spelling Puzzles 1

"Parents looking for an age-appropriate program that will help their first-grader practice language arts skills will be pleased with this electronic workbook that is packaged with a companion printed workbook. Good for reinforcing and practicing basic phonics and spelling at home, and reasonably priced too. Perhaps more aptly considered an early-reading skills program, this "electronic workbook" provides solid workbook-style practice for first-graders. Children work through a series of exercises that include filling in missing letters to spell basic words, identifying words with long and short vowels, and working with simple rhymes. Ages 6-7." -- The Review Corner.



Flash Action Phonics Made Easy

"This cheerful and bright program provides children with an encouraging environment for honing phonics skills. Excellent practice for children in first and early second grade. Clever games and bright screens enliven phonics activities in this encouraging program that helps children develop essential phonics skills. Ages 6-8." -- The Review Corner.






Best Creative Arts Software:



Kid Pix Deluxe 3rd Edition

"This deluxe version of a tried-and-true art program provides all the tools kids need to create on the computer - whether they are producing serious charts and presentations for school projects or expressive freeform art just for the sake of fun. In the right hands, this program provides rich opportunities for self-expression through multimedia art. Ages 4-up." -- The Review Corner.




Alice In Vivaldi's Four Seasons - Music Games Intl

"Looking for something different, fun, and educational? This CD-ROM works children's brains in fantastic ways as they learn to distinguish sounds and musical instruments. Featuring musical puzzles and games based on Vivaldi's Four Seasons, this fresh software title allows children to play and learn about music and musical instruments in innovative ways. Ages 6-up." -- The Review Corner. 



Cosmic Blobs: Lab Rat Edition

"This revolutionary 3D graphics software for children presents endless opportunities for creativity. The program is educationally valuable for its open-endedness and for encouraging and developing kids' visualization skills. Cosmic Blobs is imaginative and inspiring. Impressive! Best for ages 8 and up." -- The Review Corner. 



Music Ace Deluxe

"Music Ace would make a perfect supplement to any beginning music student's studies. Its simple but engaging format is impressive, with a focus on music reading, listening, and composing skills. Maestro Max guides users in this music tutorial that introduces the fundamentals of music. Appropriate for beginning music students of almost any age over 8 years, Music Ace is designed to complement music lessons for students of various instruments. This title is self-paced and contains musical "sessions" with a range of topics. The Music Doodle Pad is also included and acts as a creative composition tool. Ages 8-up." -- The Review Corner.




KUTOKA Click & Create With Mia (Windows/Macintosh)

"Original design and content are some of this software's strong points. Although it has a slightly difficult learning curve, this art and creativity game holds children's attention. This interesting program offers players five different ways to discover and create: Projects, Paint, Shapes, Draw, and Multimedia. Whether or not children have experienced Mia through such excellent adventure games as Mia Kidnap Caper or Mia Just in Time, they will enjoy Click and Create with Mia if art and creativity software appeals to them. Ages 7-11." -- The Review Corner. 



Best Early Learning/ Preschool Software:


Blue's Room: Blue Talks

"The activities in this graphically-rich early learning software game are original, and offer preschoolers the chance to exercise their deductive reasoning skills in simple but effective ways. Ages 3-5." -- The Review Corner.


Dora the Explorer: Fairytale Adventures PC Play Pack

"A pleasing variety and number of activities are featured in this engaging software for young Dora the Explorer fans. The learning challenges are on-target for the suggested age group. Ages 4-6." -- The Review Corner.


Best Deals in Software:



StarFlyers Alien Space Chase

"Though it could have been a little more educational, this program is especially entertaining and does require some thinking skills. This title features plenty of arcade action that is never intimidating, some logic puzzles, and a fantastic story line. Ages 6-9." -- The Review Corner.



StarFlyers Royal Jewel Rescue

"This program is one of two titles that mark the launch of an excellent new series of children's software. Well-developed characters and an engaging story provide the framework for super activities that exercise logical thinking skills. Ages 6-9." -- The Review Corner.



Best Software Bundles:



Adventure Workshop Famous Friends

"Four older titles for the price of one. Rugrats Munchin Land is mostly entertaining, but a Review Corner favorite (see review here). Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? is a highly educational game that boosts geography skills. The other two titles are: Lilo & Stitch Hawaiin Adventure is mediocre but sound (see our review)  and Monsters Inc. Bowling for Screams is pure arcade. Ages 8-up." -- The Review Corner.



Adventure Workshop 5: Preschool-1st Grade

"This set of 4 older CD-ROMs is a virtual playhouse for young children that is educational as well as fun. Reader Rabbit Thinking Adventures is an excellent early logic program, and the bundle also includes Arthur's Reading Games, Dr. Seuss Preschool, and Arthur's Math Games. Excellent deal. Ages 3-6." -- The Review Corner.



Lion King Classic Collection

"This bundle of three programs includes the excellent Adventures in Typing with Timon & Pumbaa, a fun "learn to type" program for kids, as well as two fun activity center games. A great deal. Ages 7-9." -- The Review Corner.


Best Foreign Language Software for Children:



Eazyspeak Spanish Levels 1 and 2 (PC & Mac)

Eazyspeak French Levels 1 and 2 (PC & Mac)

"A foreign language learning title that's fun even compelling? Very hard to find...until now. This foreign language software title is as effective and appealing as it is offbeat. It's a little risqué (read details in the review), and a whole lot of fun. Highly recommended for children who are bored with standard foreign language software fare. Excellent supplement to a French/Spanish language course. Ages 10-up" -- The Review Corner.


KUTOKA Mia's Language Adventure (Windows/Macintosh)

 "This content- and graphic-rich program offers children an unforgettable adventure and practice with either Spanish or French vocabulary. The detailed and immersive graphics in The Kidnap Caper are a trademark of the series. Kids are truly transported into a fantasy world where human-like mice and rats have arranged elements from the human world to create their own personalized environments. Cute details abound in this miniature world, such as the chess pieces that decorate the art gallery. The activities explore early vocabulary, including animals, positions, professions, the alphabet, and numbers. Children get acquainted with simple dialogues and learn to build sentences in the featured second language. Ages 7-10." -- The Review Corner.



KidSpeak Spanish

"This program is loaded with activities and learning opportunities — 40+ interactive activities and 700+ words and expressions in authentic, native speech. The approach to language learning is an immersive one — words and phrases in the foreign language are not translated. Research has shown that this is a highly effective way to teach people a foreign language, and even more so for children. Children are free to try different responses without being told they are wrong — instead, the real answer is spoken naturally. There is a tremendous amount of reinforcement going on in the program, and it seems to be highly effective. This program will be especially helpful for children who are entering into, or are currently involved in, foreign language study at school. Ages 6-9." -- The Review Corner.



Rosetta Stone Spanish Explorer (Latin America)

"This easy-to-use, straightforward program carefully builds confidence in learning a foreign language through lessons supported by vibrant photos and clear speech. This program is unique in that it is appropriate for many different ages and skill levels. This program is effective because the immersion approach matches most children's natural learning styles. Instead of explicit grammar lessons and translations, users absorb vocabulary and sentence structure in a manner that is natural and unforced. Most users will improve their listening, reading, speaking, and writing skills in the featured foreign language. Advanced students of the language are unlikely to find much challenge in the program, and very beginners might struggle a little. Rosetta Stone Explorer titles are best for intermediate students." -- The Review Corner.


Best Reference Software for Children:



World Book Encyclopedia 2005 Edition

"This is a fabulous electronic encyclopedia for elementary-age students. The content is relevant and never overwhelming; the reading level is appropriate; and the program's creative features nourish children's innate curiosity and desire to learn. Because first experiences with information gathering can be vital to a child's attitude towards research, parents will want to choose research tools that make the process enjoyable. With this latest edition of the electronic encyclopedia, World Book remains an outstanding reference software for children entering the world of research. Elementary-age children will find relevant articles and multimedia that can help them with school projects. Additionally, users of the software will find plenty of creative features that encourage them to satisfy their thirst for information, simply for the sake of knowledge. It is important to note that children beyond elementary age will likely need more information than that contained in World Book. However, for young researchers, World Book offers a positive and useful introduction to research and information gathering." -- The Review Corner.



Microsoft Encarta Reference Library Premium 2005 CD

"This electronic encyclopedia and reference suite features superior navigation and an exceptional mix of multimedia and user-friendly features. This is an excellent reference resource for students ages 9-10 and up that helps them with their homework and encourages exploration simply for the fun of it. This beautifully integrated suite of reference software is appealing, user-friendly, and thoroughly handy. Included in the Encarta Reference Library 2004 is the Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe, Interactive World Atlas, World English Dictionary, Thesaurus, Book of Quotations, Encarta Africana, and a set of excellent research and learning tools and games. While other encyclopedias contain valuable content, Encarta has a distinct edge: its rich use of multimedia and games keep kids (and adults) in the program above and beyond their basic school needs. It is a very contemporary and thriving encyclopedia with its frequent updates and seamless editors' web links picks. This new edition adds an exciting feature designed for children's research needs: Encarta Kids." -- The Review Corner.



Best Logic/Games Software for Children:


Crazy Machines: The Wacky Contraptions Game (PC & Mac)

"Children build 'wacky' contraptions along with their thinking skills in this fascinating, addictive game of brain-teasing puzzles. Players are assigned tasks that start out simple and become increasingly complex as they advance. They need to unlock puzzles as they go. Hard to stop playing, and an excellent workout for the brain." -- The Review Corner.


Learn to Play Chess with Fritz and Chesster

"This CD-ROM for aspiring masters of the game of chess combines instruction, games, and challenges in a unique animated adventure that is both brainy and fun. This CD-ROM makes an excellent introductory chess program. Ages 8-up." -- The Review Corner.  



I Spy Fantasy

"Problem-solving and language arts skills get a boost as kids take up the many challenges this enjoyable game has to offer. Replayable content and brain-building fun are featured. Ages 7-10." -- The Review Corner.


Zoo Tycoon 2

"Significant opportunities for learning are simply part of the fun and challenge of building a thriving zoo in this absorbing simulation game. Ages 8-up." -- The Review Corner.

All products are rated on a 5-star system. Any product with a 4.5 or 5 star rating receives our Award of Excellence.

  • 5 stars Outstanding, highly recommended
  • 4.5 stars Very Good, highly recommended
  • 3.5 or 4 stars Recommended, with some reservations (as noted in the body of the review)
  • 3 stars or less Not recommended


See also: Quick Picks in Children's Music

Quick Picks in Children's Toys


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