NAPPA 2006: Software for Preschoolers & Elementary Students

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By Alex Chisholm

Nappa Gold Winners
The theme running through this year's NAPPA winners is excellence in empowering kids and unlocking their creativity. As computing technologies become more sophisticated, they're also becoming easier to use.

The past few years have seen an explosion of new software titles and electronic games that move beyond what's possible with the keyboard and joystick. These innovations invite kids of all ages to literally jump in to experiences with easy-to-use dance pads, skateboards, drawing slates and other devices that connect directly to the computer and TV. These wonderful new ways of interacting with technology enable designers to create products that go way beyond old-school "drill and thrill" activities. These NAPPA Gold Award-winners represent some of the best of what's new for families.

Gold Award Winners

Piano Wizard, Allegro Multimedia, 2005; $199.95; Windows 98 and later; for ages 5 and up. Pricey, yes, but a worthwhile investment for the family. Research shows that kids who develop an ability to play music benefit in a variety of ways, including demonstrating better math proficiencies. This USB plug-in works with your PC and introduces kids to the keyboard, sheet music and many popular piano classics. Highly versatile, it provides step-by-step instruction - often through simple games and visuals - to help kids learn where to place their fingers, how to count measures, read music and progress through more advanced musical exercises and practice sessions. Kids receive support through all activities, including a proficiency meter that helps them track their progress.
V-Smile Art Studio, VTech, 2006; $29.99 for Art Studio, $59.99 for VSmile TV Learning System; for ages 5 to 7. Putting a blank paper in front of a child and giving him or her a crayon is one of the simplest things we can do to unlock imagination and empower creativity. As an add-on to VTech's popular VSmile TV Learning System, the company's new Art Studio provides reams of virtual paper and a bucket of interactive design and animation tools that allow children to create the next generation of "refrigerator art." With a tethered stylus and smooth design surface, young artists learn how to match colors, draw different shapes and objects, animate illustrations and play games. (Parents who remember the creativity palette from the My First Sony line back in the 1980s will love this product.)

Honors Award Winners

The Backyardigans for Leapster, LeapFrog, 2006; $24.99; Leapster Learning System or Leapster TV;; for preschoolers. With Nick Jr.'s popular Backyardigans characters, LeapFrog has created a series of games and activities that help preschoolers develop awareness of letters, numbers, shapes, colors and music. Although the activities and games are basic and inspired by some very familiar classics (for example, Frogger), the opportunity for kids to jump into the world of Backyardigans is what really distinguishes this product. Kids will certainly enjoy it.

V-Smile Baby-Infant Development System, VTech, 2006; $39.99; TV;;  for infants and toddlers. By no means an "electronic babysitter," VSmile's Infant Development System is noteworthy because it provides an engaging set of TV-based activities for parents to share with their little ones. Activities support learning of colors, shapes, words, stories and music. Levels for children from 1- to 2-1/2-years-old provide age-appropriate animation and guidance that help toddlers succeed and enable parents to develop nurturing educational skills. The "big button" control panel can be situated on a parent's lap or placed on a floor or table for the child to use independently.

2Create-A-Story, 2SimpleUSAShop, 2005; $29.99; Windows 98 and later;  Although the graphics and animation tools are fairly basic, 2Create-A-Story provides a valuable experience for kids to strengthen their facility with computers while reinforcing literacy and creativity skills. Additionally, the Flash-based tool kit allows kids to publish their newly created stories and animations on the Web so that faraway family and friends can see what they've done. "Create and share" is a powerful motivator for kids and cultivates social skills that help them succeed later in life.

Jumpstart Phonics Read & Rhyme, Knowledge Adventure, 2005; $19.99; Windows 2000 and later, Macintosh OSX;  The folks at Knowledge Adventure have created a set of effective games that build on the popular "karaoke" craze to help kids read. Using an easy-to-use microphone (USB plug-in), kids interact with the game's host - a cat named Val - to learn letters and their corresponding sounds, words and rhymes by repeating what Val says and reading out loud. Advanced levels include fun songs that parents will recognize and that will get kids thinking about the sounds they're making and what they "look like" in text. Among the best of learning games, Jumpstart goes beyond the simple controls of keyboard or joystick by encouraging kids to exercise their lungs!

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