Many parents hope educational software will give kids a learning boost as they head back to school. There's a lot of good software out there, much of it reasonably priced. But there's also a lot of dreck. Here are some considerations for parents.
Don't buy into the hype that the software will make your kid brighter. It can entertain, amuse and reinforce facts and ideas - sometimes even teach new ones. But it has to work with what the student brings to the table.
Software's greatest strength is that it is endlessly patient and will repeat material over and over. Its greatest weakness is that it has zero intuition and will never see that moment when a student not only gets the right answer, but understands the problem.
Make sure the software has ample entertainment value, particularly at the elementary-school level. If it looks like flash cards and worksheets that have simply been put on a screen, save your money.
Monitor your kid's progress. A game that is too complicated will only build frustration unless you're around to help. If it's too easy, the dreaded "Boring!" will doom any second use.
If it's more than $30, there better be a great explanation.
If you're going to be sharing the software with friends, pay attention to the format. A hybrid Windows/Macintosh CD-ROM is best. After that, Windows-only will work on more machines than Mac-only.
One good Web site for comparative software reviews is SuperKids Educational Software Review. You can find other sites by searching for "educational software" on the Internet.
Other parents are also a good source of information. Parents also should swap software that once was challenging to their kid but now gathers dust.
Which software publishers should you consider? In almost 20 years of looking at the stuff, I have found great work from the following publishers, in no particular order: School Zone Interactive, The Learning Company, Scholastic, Edmark, Creative Wonders, Broderbund, Humongous Entertainment and Knowledge Adventure.
On the Net:
SuperKids Educational Software Review: http://www.superkids.com
Questions and comments are welcome. Send them to Larry Blasko, AP, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020-1666. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.