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KIDS' SOFTWARE MUST HAVE RIGHT ANSWERS

There's a great deal of entertaining and educational software being sold for children. Some of the software fills both slots - it's entertaining and educational. But there's also a great deal of shoddy software being hawked for kids. And some of what's good for some children isn't good for others.

Edmark, which makes excellent programs for tykes (notably Bailey's Book House, Thinkin' Things and Millie's Math House,) put together a fine list of questions to help you select the right software for your youngsters. They've given us permission to reprint the list here, and we've added some comments to it.After each of Edmark's questions, we show what should be the "right" answer. If the software you're thinking of buying doesn't have all the "right" answers, don't buy it. It's as simple as that.

1. Can the child operate the software independently? (Yes is the answer you want.)

2. Does this software require reading? If so, does the child know how to read all the words? (If the answer to the first question is yes, the answer to the second should be yes, too.)

3. Does the child control the pace of the software? (Yes, is the right answer for all ages.)

4. Would you call this software strictly "drill and practice"? (The answer should be no, unless you're buying a program that can only teach what the child needs to learn through drill and practice. Some examples are typing lessons, foreign language word drill and math flashcards.)

5. Is the software able to grow with the child? Will it allow the child to explore concepts and skills in levels of increasing difficulty? (To provide long use, the answer to both parts should be yes.)

6. Does the software give the child a visual (sight) or auditory (sound) response when the child clicks on an object or character? (The answer should be yes.)

7. Does the software take a long time to progress from screen to screen? (The answer must be no. If it's yes, the child will soon stop using the program no matter how cute it is.)

8. Are the software graphics (illustrations) colorful, clear and appealing to children? (Yes is best.)

9. Does the software offer animation (moving pictures)? (Look for a yes answer.)

10. Does the software offer lifelike sound and voices? (Yes is best.)

11. Is the child at a developmental stage where he or she is ready to learn the concepts and skills presented in this software? (The answer must be yes. Do not buy any software that's "too old" for the child. It'll just frustrate the youngster and cause you grief.)

12. Will the child enjoy playing with this software? (If you can't answer yes, forget it. If there's no enjoyment, little learning will take place.)

13. Does the software provide strong, encouraging positive feedback? (Yes is the answer needed here.)

14. Does the software provide strong negative feedback? (For instance, if you miss an answer to a problem, does it dump you back to the beginning of the game or session? If Yes, reject it. This answer should be no.)

15. Does the software encourage the child to explore the program using trial and error? (This answer, too, should be yes.)

We'd add two questions that we feel are as important as Edmark's 15: Will the software work well on your computer equipment? If you're not sure, is there at least a 30-day, money-back guarantee?

If you're not sure it'll run and there's no money-back guarantee, don't buy the program even if it racks up a perfect score in the 15-question test.

Edmark's Worksheet for Educational Software Evaluation, which we've reproduced, is part of a good little brochure called Parent's Guide to Educational Software for Young Children. It discusses how young children learn. It also provides suggestions for how you can find out the answers to the 15 questions before you buy the software.

A small section in the pamphlet deals with software for children with special needs. It lists the phone numbers of three resources: the Alliance for Technology Access (510-528-0747), the Center for Special Education Technology (703-620-3660) and the Closing the Gap Resource Directory (612-248-3294).

The booklet is yours free for a phone call to Edmark at 206-556-8484.

There are a number of books that attempt to help you find out what's in a package of children's software and whether it's appropriate for your child, before you buy it. They're sold by bookstores and loaned by good libraries.

Our favorite is Edutainment Comes Alive written by William P. Mann and published by SAMS (ISBN 0-672-30450-3, $39.99).