October 1999

Cyber News and Reviews is a monthly column published for parents, teachers & business owners featuring kids educational software reviews, business software reviews (small business & home business), games and entertainment articles, a free resource since 1995.

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Arthur's Reading from The Learning Company, Barbie Photo Designer Digital Camera & CD-ROM from Mattel Media and Disney/Pixar Active Play: A Bug's Life from Disney Interactive

Arthur's Reading from The Learning Company

If you and your kids watch Arthur's animated educational videos (by Marc Brown) on your local PBS station, then you'll love Arthur's Reading from The Learning Company for kids ages 4 to 7.   This is a two CD set with nice animation, music, sound effects, lots of activities and arcade style games that will keep your kids at the computer learning and improving their language skills.  In fact, you'll find more than 50 activities.

CD 1:  Reading Basics

After signing in, you enter the world of Arthur and friends with an overview of his school as the main menu.   Six activity areas are accessed by a click of the mouse.  You'll find the Puzzle Game, the Piñata Game, Hide and Seek on the playground, a Cheering Game, Print Activities in the Art Room and the Parrot Talk game.  In the Puzzle Game, you clean up the puzzle piece spill by assembling the letters correctly.  Each letter sound is pronounced and a word starting with the letter is given.  In the Piñata Game, hit the piñata and sort the toys that fall out by their first letter.  Find Buster, Francine and The Brain playing Hide and Seek on the playground by correctly identifying objects for clues to where they're hiding.   In the Cheering Game you combine letters, called out by Arthur and his friends, into words.  You'll find lots of projects in the Art Room with the help of D.W., Arthur's sister.  And finally, (for CD 1) play Parrot Talk and match what the Parrot says with the letters displayed on the blackboard.

CD 2: Advanced Reading Skills

Enter the Library in this second CD for more advanced reading exercises.  From the Library main menu you can select six activity areas.  Make up a funny stories with Buster and Arthur by selecting pictures to insert into the text.  Play Guess the Word with The Brain, Buster and D.W.  Help Muffy decide where to go on her next vacation in a concentration type match game.   Build words with Francine's Word Machine.  Join Mr. Ratburn's Spell-a-Thon with contestants, Francine, The Brain and Buster.  Mr. Ratburn reads a question and the contestants hold up what they think is correct word. Then you pick the correct spelling.  And finally, you'll find the Dance Theater amusing.  Select Arthur's dance moves from a menu below the stage and then press "Go" to see him do his stuff.  You can also paint the background by clicking the Backstage sign.

This is a great CD set that my 5-year-old daughter, Becky, really enjoys.  Watching her on two different occasions, I could see that she was confident working the activities, and really having fun..  When she completed a series of games, she was excited to show me the trophy she earned.

Arthur's Reading sells for a street price of $29.99 and will run on any multimedia PC, 486/66 MHz or faster processor with 8 megabytes of RAM and a double-speed (2x) CD-ROM drive running Windows 95 or Windows 98.  For more information contact The Learning at 1-800-716-8506, or visit their Web site at learningco.com.

Barbie Photo Designer Digital Camera & CD-ROM from Mattel Media

Girls (and boys) ages 6 and up (and even adults) can have some photographic fun with the Barbie Photo Designer Digital Camera & CD-ROM from Mattel Media.  With the photo designer CD and this cute little camera, you and your kids can take some fun color pictures for manipulation with some neat special effects.  Put your favorite photos into a scrapbook, make a very short digital movie with the Digital Flip Book, frame and filter your photos, and even place your pictures into scenes with Barbie and her friends.   The Image Editor allows you to crop your pictures, change the backgrounds and colors, and change picture size.

The camera is simple to use.  Install a 9-volt alkaline battery and then just point and shoot.  It stores 6 photos before you have to upload them to your PC (you'll hear an audio alert when it's full), by way of a cable that plugs into your camera and the computer's serial port.   This connection can present a problem because the cable uses a 9-pin connector and most serial ports are 25 pin.  Adapters are easy to find at your local computer or office supply shop for under $8.00.  Also, the software requires that your video display is set to 16 bit high color, so you need an up-to-date multimedia PC system.  Once connected, the photos are transferred  to you computer's hard drive and your Barbie Clipboard, where you can select those you like, and discard the rest.  While connected to your PC, you can take up to 20 photos at a time.

Becky, who is 5-years-old, found the camera and software easy to use after I demonstrated.  She says she loves making movies using the Digital Flip Book.  The photos taken indoors and out were of similar quality with good colors, and very acceptable, despite its low resolution of 160 x 120 pixels. Click here for some of Becky's creations (and a few of my own). Sample Photos.  You can import and export photos from the Preferences menu.  In this case I exported jpegs.  I also noticed that close-up shots did not center in the frame correctly.  The manual mentioned when this happens, back away from your subject, and reshoot.

This is a really fun camera and although it's meant for girls, anyone (boys and adults) will find it enjoyable.  As previously mentioned, the resolution is low at 160 x 120 pixels, but that doesn't matter.  The photos are clear enough for kids to get creative.  Color printer output is fair, but acceptable.  So far, we've taken about 150 photos and the battery is going strong (you should expect 150 to 200 pictures from a single alkaline battery).  But, if you find yourself going through 9-volt batteries like candy, then buy a rechargeable alkaline battery with charger and you'll save a bundle.

Barbie Photo Designer Digital Camera & CD-ROM for a street price of $69.99 and will run on any multimedia PC, Pentium 90 MHz or faster processor with 16 megabytes of RAM and a quad-speed (4x) CD-ROM drive running Windows 95 or Windows 98.  For more information contact Mattel Media at 1-888-628-8359, or visit their Web site at mattelmedia.com.

Disney/Pixar Active Play: A Bug's Life from Disney Interactive

If you liked Disney/Pixar A Bug's Life Action Game, you'll enjoy A Bug's Life Active Play  from Disney Interactive.  Designed for kids ages 3 to 7 (or adults who really enjoyed the movie, like me), you'll find lots of activities with the great graphics, animation, music and the sounds from Disney's world of Flik and his buggy friends.  It includes six activities with the goal to help Flik and friends save the bugs from that mean grasshopper, Hopper and his pending grasshopper invasion.  Your goal is to explore the six activities and collect the parts to build Flik's invention (a grasshopper flinger) to protect Ant Island from harm.  Visit Ant Island to help sort the berry harvest, put a picture story together at Spiral Root, find some buried treasure at Council Chambers, visit The City to reunite a lost beetle with his dad, help P.T. Flea's Circus run their show and at the Bug Bar and Grill help Tse-Tse the Waitress deliver her order.

Besides the six activities areas, there are two more areas to explore.  Your kids can create a puppet show at Make-Your Own Puppet Show by selecting a skit, the story line, the puppets and background scenes.  And it's very cute.  The characters are placed on leaves and move around the stage as the story you selected is told. There is also the Bug Board Game that you can play on the computer or print out and play away from the computer (now that's a good idea).  And you'll find lots of jokes as you play.  In addition, when you're on your journey to save the bugs, you can take bug pictures (of course with your Bug Camera) and store them in your Bug Photo Album for viewing and printing.

Not only will you and your kids have fun with this CD, it's educational as well.  And, you'll probably want to see the movie again.  Both Becky and Sarah loved the activities.  Becky said, "My favorite game is the Berry Harvest (which is at Ant Island) and I liked the puppet show too."  Sarah also liked the Berry Harvest saying, "it's a little like playing pinball."

Disney/Pixar Active Play: A Bug's Life sells for a street price of $19.99 and will run on any multimedia PC, Pentium 90 MHz or faster processor with 16 megabytes of RAM and a quad-speed (4x) CD-ROM drive running Windows 95 or Windows 98.  For more information contact Disney Interactive at 1-800-900-9234, or visit their Web site at disneyinteractive.com.

Howard Berenbon

Software Companies Mentioned

Disney Interactive
500 S. Buena Vista St.
Burbank, CA 91521-8432
Phone: 1-800-900-9234
URL disneyinteractive.com

Mattel, Inc.
333 Continental Boulevard
El Segundo, CA 90245
Phone: 1-888-628-8359
URL mattelmedia.com

The Learning Company
6493 Kaiser Drive
Fremont, CA 94555
Phone: 1-800-716-8506
URL learningco.com.