Educational software has gone from curiosity and novelty to commonplace and commodity, but the pricing hasn't moved quite as rapidly.
Stuff that went for around $50 a pop 10 years ago, now goes for $30, but before software publishers pat themselves on the back, it's useful to look at comparable pricing on books for kids. A softcover book aimed at the third-grade set goes for $4 to $5, and a hardcover chapter book is about $16. And yes, the days of the 10-cent comic book are long gone, but still, in terms of entertainment-education provided, it's hard to square software pricing vs. books.
Which is why some very nice educational software coming out from Vivendi Universal Games is a pleasant change in pricing direction.
The software involved is the Jump Start series that's been reviewed in this space before. It's good stuff, enjoyed by kids and snatched by teachers. (The authority for the last statement comes from being the husband, father and father-in-law of teachers. This stuff has to be hidden before it's reviewed or it disappears.)
First, check out three packages for $29.99, each with three CDs, putting the per-CD cost at around $10 a pop, certainly in the right ballpark. Jump Start Advanced Toddlers tackles singing, art and school, big issues for the low single-digit age group.
Jump Start Advanced 3rd and 4th Grade offers a fundamentals CD, a mystery CD and a field-trip CD that reinforce and advance skills.
There are also three-CD sets for advanced preschool, advanced kindergarten, and first, second and fifth and sixth grades.
Beyond the price and the good quality of the software is the fact that they work on both PCs and Macs. Apple was very agressive in the early days about getting its widgets into schools. The result today is that students lead a bipolar computing existence, Mac by day and PC by night. Not a problem here.
Vivendi is also offering a couple of Jump Start study helpers in spelling and math at $19.99 each, which would tarnish their good-price image except that both cover grades 1 through 5, so at around four bucks a year, it's hard to get grouchy.
System requirements are, in context of the current muscle-machine mania, fairly modest, recognizing that not all of us, and certainly not every school, gets new equipment each year.
For the Mac, make it PowerMac G3 233 megahertz or faster, OS 8.6, 9.2.1 or 10.1.2, 64 megabytes of RAM, a 16-speed CD-ROM drive and 10-0 megabytes of hard disk space, plus 16 bit color.
The PC folk need a 233-megahertz Pentium or better (300 megahertz for some titles on XP), Windows 98, Me, 200, or XP, 64 megabytes of RAM (128 for XP), a 12-speed CD-ROM drive or better, and the same 100 megabytes of hard disk space.
Jump Start software is ubiquitously available at retail and online. The Web site is http://www.jumpstart.com.