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The New Adventures of Reader Rabbit (4 titles)
The Learning Company


Reader Rabbit Preschool (Sparkle Star Rescue), ages 3-5 years
Reader Rabbit Kindergarten (Bounce Down in Balloon Town), ages 4-6
Reader Rabbit First Grade (Capers on Cloud Nine), ages 5-7
Reader Rabbit Second Grade (Mis-cheese-ious Dreamship Adventure), ages 6-8

All four titles are $19.99 apiece and all will run on either Mac or Windows machines. Each title stands alone, yet each title also builds upon the skills presented in earlier titles. Don't worry if you haven't been following the adventures from preschool. The educational elements in these products are all solidly researched; the skills are plentiful and they are coherently taught and reinforced.

For those of you already familiar with Reader Rabbit products, take note that these titles will be the flagship products in this series. Previous Reader Rabbit titles from before August 2001 are "value" products now offered for sale at lower prices. The titles described below can be thought of as the "top of the line" with redesigned formats, extra features and new, improved learning activities.

Each title covers a wide range of age-appropriate educational skills without trying to jam too much in. You are getting your money's worth here, despite a glaring glitch I'll talk about later. Each title has an adventure story plot the reader may pursue, gathering essential tokens, or jewels or other objects along the way. Eventually, these objects allow the reader to unlock crucial doors or accomplish some other vital task. The reader may elect to bypass this fiction and just practice the skills. No geegaws will be collected, but they are only useful to complete the fictional "game" aspect of the program.

I tried it both ways and oddly I found the fiction more satisfying than I thought I would. The child in me wants jewels, gold, and trinkets. Practice mode seems to go on forever. Getting the trinkets in fiction mode indicated to me that I was at least moving toward a goal.

Many instructions are delivered by the talking characters, and sometimes the voices are not understandable immediately. You, the adult, will be needed from time to time to make things clearer. Sometimes, the instructions leave out a step or two such as telling the reader to click onto a specific spot to finish the activity. Incredibly, some crucial graphics are simply so "mushy" that they can't be read and the learning activity is useless. Rhyming activities rely on visual and auditory cues. In one activity, the rhyming words speed by, streaked and blurry and unreadable. The activity is a washout. At least two other, different activities were useless on my Windows ME machine. The Learning Company is a top-flight organization and such errors are inexcusable from this group. It is a judgment call as to whether or not you want these titles to become part of your home library. All the other activities are wonderfully solid educational experiences from which your child will greatly benefit. At $19.99 a title, you are still getting a lot of program. Perhaps by the time this article is published the glitches will be sufficiently reported and repaired.

Each disc boasts manual and automatic level-difficulty manipulation and progress tracking features. A small regular book accompanies each disc with real words on real pages. Nice addition. The books bear no obvious connection with the content of the software, but that does not matter. Reading skills are transferable and need not be lockstep reiterations of one media into another.

Happily, each disk contains three creative activities - painting, music and calendar making—which can be accessed at any time without the reader having to collect points, coins, seashells or anything. The Preschool and Kindergarten versions are identical. Grade One's painting module leaps out of bounds and offers exciting, easy to use animation functions. Grade Two's painting function mysteriously backtracks and becomes less challenging. The title page of each program provides a link to a web based learning center created by the Learning Company. There you will find reinforcement worksheets and many suggestions for learning activities you can prepare individually for your child.


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