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Edutaining Kids Selects the Best Children's Software of 2002

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Every year, scores of children's edutainment software titles are released, and 2002 was no exception. We were busy all year long evaluating and testing kids' games, and now it's time to round up the titles we deem the year's best. 

We've organized what we consider the year's best children's software releases into the following categories: General Learning, which includes edutainment titles that incorporate a variety of learning concepts; Music; Science; Social Studies; Print & Utility; and Fun & Learning, which includes titles meant mainly for fun, but that require some thinking skills.

Curious George Downtown Adventure

We were thrilled with this "contraptions"-style program. Kids lead Curious George through a number of problem-solving levels that involve positioning various gadgets and parts (such as balls and trampolines) on the board. This program stands out because it lets children experiment, actively involving their thinking and strategizing skills. This title is best for children about 5-9 (instead of the "3 and up" on the box). Brain-building fun.

Our rating of the game: A

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Curious George Downtown Adventure at - paid link]


Stuart Little Learning Adventure

This program doesn't follow the Stuart Little movie's story line at all, but it does "star" the lovable mouse. Truly packed with educational activities, this program contains 2 CD-ROMs, each featuring activities based on language arts, visual arts, and math curriculum for early elementary age children. The program is not particularly fast-paced, and it doesn't tie in with the movie's story, but it is very creative and clever in its presentation of educational concepts. This is one of those rare programs that can last for a very long time, and the time invested into it will be very well spent. It is especially original for its introduction of visual arts concepts and early math skills.

Our rating: A  

[Buy Stuart Little Learning Adventures at - paid link.]

Powerpuff Girls: Mojo Jojo's Clone Zone

This game will go over well with both kids and their parents. Blossom, Buttercup, and Bubbles are determined to save Townsville--and the world--from Mojo Jojo's evil doings. But they need kids' brainpower to defeat the villain. Math and reading skills are featured in activities that are pleasant, somewhat challenging, but ultimately "doable". Kids ages 6-9 will have a great time with The Powerpuff Girls Mojo Jojo's Clone Zone (Learning Challenge #1). In fact, there are five levels of difficulty to choose from, so children at different skill levels are accommodated. Very recommended.

See our screenshot gallery for pictures from the software game.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: The Powerpuff Girls: Mojo Jojo's Clone... at - paid link]

StarFlyers Royal Jewel Rescue

Aimed at children in early elementary, this program stars a courageous young girl who sets out on imaginary adventures in outer space. Arcade-style activities are included, but most games require some thinking skills, incorporating sequencing, problem-solving, and spatial relation skills. The story line is cute and the graphics are cartoony. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: StarFlyers Royal Jewel RescueStarFlyers Alien Space Chase at - affiliate link]

JumpStart Advanced Kindergarten

As kids prepare for a big car race in JumpStartVille, they practice a variety of Kindergarten curriculum skills, such as early spelling, phonics, math, and science. The program's tutoring feature is quite helpful and the educational content is right-on for children ages 4-5.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: JumpStart Advanced Kindergarten with... at - affiliate link]


Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker Music Game

We were entirely impressed with this CD-ROM, and the kids couldn't stop playing it. This title truly involves children in discerning the parts that make up an orchestra. There are many activities found in the program, but one of the best is the puzzle activity. Children listen to classical music, such as The Arab Dance and The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and then try to identify the instruments that are playing. This is beautifully done--a real treat.

[See our full review of the program. To buy: Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker The Music Game - paid link]

Zoombinis Island Odyssey

This third title in the exceptional Zoombinis series is a superior thinking skills program that introduces children to a variety of science subjects. It is challenging but fun, and a new option (the ability to change the challenge levels in adventure mode) is very welcome. Children lead endearing creatures, the Zoombinis, on a quest to rebuild the Zerble food chain. As they do, they build problem-solving skills and exercise their brains in useful ways. Excellent. See our full review and screenshot gallery of the game.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Zoombinis Island Odyssey at - paid link]

Liberty's Kids

This program teaches children some American history through an adventure that is set during the American Revolution. The television show, Liberty's Kids, recently premiered on PBS, and this CD-ROM presents a wonderful way for children to not only learn about historical events, but also to develop journalistic skills! They follow the adventures of two young reporters, Sarah Phillips and James Hiller, as they attempt to get the scoop for the daily newspaper.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy (paid link): Liberty's Kids ]

Ollo in the Sunny Valley Fair

In this fabulous adventure, children move Ollo, a blue ball of clay with personality, through a graphically rich world where he meets with a cast of cute characters, solves all sorts of problems, and ultimately saves the day. How? By setting things right after an experimental, larger-than-life tomato drops from a vine and rolls through the town. What sets this title apart from others on the market is its educationally valuable mini-games that are incorporated seamlessly into the adventure; its controlled story line that is divided into chapters with clear goals; and its earnest, responsible messages. Helping out is an important theme of the game, and chances to learn and explore counting, sorting, color recognition, and more, abound. The story is charming and sweet, and the rewards for success are appropriate. Children who enjoy goal-driven software programs, such as Junior Adventures starring Putt-Putt and Freddi Fish, will find lots to love in Ollo in the Sunny Valley Fair

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy (paid link): Ollo in the Sunny Valley Fair at]

Backyard Hockey

Anyone familiar with the Backyard series of sports simulations for kids will be delighted with this new offering: Backyard Hockey. Those new to the exceptional series will find this latest title a wonderful introduction. The program features an assorted group of animated kids to choose from, and even stars all 30 NHL teams and pro players appearing as animated kids. Children can play a pick-up game or work through an entire season. This is an excellent introduction to the sport and helps children learn the value of teamwork as well as the benefits of strategy. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy (paid link): Backyard Hockey at]

Chessmaster 9000

This program is excellent for beginning chess players as well as advanced. It provides thorough tutorials and plenty of options for personalizing chess games. What makes this program stand out is its ability to help improve a player's game of chess. Plentiful computer opponents are included, and a fantastic Kids Room is offered. Very recommended. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy (paid link): Chessmaster 9000 at]

Scooby Doo The Glowing Bug Man

Scooby-Dooby-Doo is back on the case, this time facing the possibility of a Glowing Bug Man. At the Natural History Museum, exhibits have been damaged, and every museum employee is a suspect...or could it be the Glowing Bug Man? Children need to use logical thinking and problem-solving skills in order to crack the case in this very doable program that is appropriate for children approximately 6-9.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy (paid link): Scooby-Doo: The Glowing Bug Man at]

Nancy Drew Secret of the Scarlet Hand

Nancy Drew is back in an all-new adventure mystery for the PC. Nancy Drew: Secret of the Scarlet Hand finds Nancy on a museum internship, and in the middle of an investigation of thefts. The Nancy Drew series for the PC is excellent for children ages 12 and up. This challenging but compelling title has some nice new features and an educational slant. This program is somewhat more intricate than others in the series. We have pictures from the game in our screenshot gallery.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy (paid link): Nancy Drew: Secret of the Scarlet Hand at]

Animal Crossing for GameCube

This is a highly original, long-standing video game for Nintendo's Game Cube. Similar in nature to The Sims, Animal Crossing features a "virtual village" populated with human-like animals. Players live in their village, tend to everyday routines, and communicate with other villages. There is a 24-hour "real time" clock in the game, which means that the sun will set when the "real" sun sets. The game's clock also coordinates with real time dates, so that seasons change accordingly. The developers of Animal Crossing seemed to have tapped into the popularity of the social aspect of games with a unique communication feature. Using a memory card, kids can transfer their character to their friend's village and interact with the characters in their game. Very unique and fun. See our full review.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy (paid link): Animal Crossing at]

Disney's Learning Adventure: Search for the Secret Keys

Children need to find six keys in a funny haunted house setting in this delightful Disney CD-ROM. Kids help Minnie, Mickey, Pluto, Donald, and Goofy escape the house by earning missing keys. The ghosts in this title are not only friendly, they're smart! They offer creative tutorials for children when they are struggling on a particular learning concept. See our screenshot gallery of the game.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy (affiliate link): Disney Learning Adventure: Search for... at]

Playhouse Disney's Stanley: Wild for Sharks!

This program is very endearing and original! Playhouse Disney's Stanley, an animal-loving and wildly imaginative little boy, needs some help finding his animal cards and parts of his shark model. Kids follow him on a problem-solving adventure that does involve a lot of arcade-style games, but it is filled with creative educational tidbits. See our full review and screenshot gallery of the game.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy (affiliate link): Playhouse Disney's Stanley: Wild for... at]

Fisher Price Little People Discovery Airport

Preschoolers will thoroughly enjoy this CD-ROM featuring the lovable Little People toys by Fisher Price. In fact, the Little People are even more lovable than ever in this game that shows them in vibrant color 3D. Maggie, Sonia Lee, Eddie, and more friends, are here to entertain (and educate, a little) young kids as they develop mouse skills. Designed for children ages 2-4, this program requires mouse skills, or the help of a parent, for kids on the younger end of the recommended age group. No doubt about it, they'll want to play the program's five activities. That may be motivation enough to learn how to use the mouse. The activities are cute and thoughtful. Children will enjoy a pet activity with Sonia Lee, who is in charge of placing pets in pet carriers before boarding them onto the plane. The pets are adorable, and children exercise number recognition skills as they play. On an educational front, numbers, counting, and sorting skills are emphasized.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Fisher-Price Little People Airport at 2004 Update: Now available in a bundle along with two other Little People titles (paid link): Fisher Price: Little People Discovery Games 3 Disk Compilation ]


Encarta Reference Library 2003

With this 2003 edition, Encarta remains at the top of our list of electronic encyclopedias. Beautiful to look at, filled with multimedia and helpful content, and easy to use, this reference library will help make any family's research efforts easier. The search feature is fabulous, with content from all titles in the suite seamlessly integrated together. Streaming live media and easy content updates (they're automatic) contribute to an exceptional product that feels alive and fresh. For children over approximately 11-12 years of age, this program will prove invaluable. Kids only just beginning to need an encyclopedia will do best with World Book 2003 (we have a review of this program) -- it is easier to read than Encarta. However, the whole family will enjoy Encarta. The presentation is excellent and invites users to stay in the program. See our full review of this suite here.

Our rating of the game: A+ 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2003 or Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2003... (DVD edition) or Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe...2003 (this program is included in the Reference Library reviewed here) at - paid link]



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