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Software for PLAY and ACTIVE Early Learning.

Computer technology offers powerful solutions to the obstacles faced by young children with special needs. It can provide access to a wide variety of play activities that are an essential part of early child development. A computer can serve as an engaging teaching tool for children with attention problems and for children who are difficult to motivate. It can also be used to facilitate early communication skills in young children with language delays or those who need an augmentative communication system.

The key is selecting the right software. There are thousands of early learning titles on the market, all claiming to be "the best." Remember, however, there is no single program that works for everyone; "the best" software for you is the one that matches your child's needs and interests. Taking the time to find a program with the right features will ensure a successful, constructive, parent-child-computer experience.

Early Learning software

"Early Learning software" refers to programs designed to teach age-appropriate skills and/or to provide age-appropriate learning opportunities to children between the ages of 18 months and eight years. Many of the recommended programs will also successfully engage older children who are functioning cognitively within this age range. The curriculum areas typically covered by Early Learning software include:

* visual attention and visual tracking;

* cause and effect;

* Receptive language (i.e., understanding words and pictures);

* Pre-academics, or "basic concepts," such as shapes, colors, sizes, and patterns;

* Early reading and writing skills such as letter recognition, consonant and vowel sounds, simple sight words, and simple sentence structure;

* Early critical thinking skills such as memory and simple problem-solving;

* Emergent literary (i.e. developing an interest in words and reading);

* Play and exploration.

The software recommended by the Exceptional Parent Assistive Technology Advisory Board can be used by parents, teachers, and therapists and readily integrated into day-care centers, preschools, public school classrooms, and homes. Most of the programs can be used in a variety of ways so do not limit yourself to the description on the box. Go with your child's interests and use your imagination!

What to look for

You should not purchase computer software before defining your goal for its use. Before making purchase, you should ask yourself if the software will match the purpose. You can start by answering these basic questions:

What do I want the computer experience to do for my child and what do I hope to accomplish? If you want your child to be able to have fun playing and exploring, you could be interested in a drawing or painting program such as Kid Pix[R] or Kaleidoscope, or in a program like Blocks in Motion. If your goal is to develop your child's interest in words and reading, you should explore interactive storybooks, such as the Living Books Series[R], the Magic Tales series, or the Disney Animated Storybook series. These CD-ROMS Start with favorite children's stories and take them beyond the printed page to a new level of enjoyment. Children can read the story themselves, have the story read to them, or get help with difficult words. They can also play with the story itself by making characters and objects come alive with sound and animation.

If you want to reinforce skills that are being taught in school, such as shapes and colors, or early reading or math skills, look at programs like Millie's Math House[R], Bailey's Book House[R], A to Zap![R], and Sunbuddy Math Playhouse[TM].

What features does my child need? Non-readers and children with visual impairments feel left out and very frustrated when instructions only appear visually. These children benefit from a program that offers speech output, i.e., the computer speaks all instructions and text aloud.

A consistent, uncluttered visual display is important for children with visual-perception problems. Too many things moving and flickering at once can be distracting and confusing.

Programs should be self-paced. Your child should have enough time to think, read, make decisions, and perform whatever motor task is required without the pressure of a ticking dock You do not want him/her penalized for a slow response.

Software should recognize that young children learn by doing, not by having things done for them. It should involve your child in "active learning." Your child should have opportunities to do things his or her way. For example, all the tides in Edmark's Early Learning Series offer two different modes for learning. When the program is set on "Explore" mode, any choice your child makes will be followed by some kind of engaging feedback There are no right or wrong answers in Explore mode; children are encouraged to try different things to see what will happen. In contrast, in the "Question and Answer" (Q & A) mode, the program presents specific instructions that children need to follow, and offers more traditional tutoring activities.

Software should provide appropriate feedback. Animations and sound effects in response to wrong answers should not be so entertaining that children want to see them again. A simple "no, try again" is preferable. Although you want the feedback to be presented in a positive fashion, it should be unambiguous so that your child can easily distinguish between right and wrong answers.

Can the program be customized for my child's needs? Look for software that allows you to control the difficulty level. For example, Thinkin' Things[R] provides a feature called "Grow Slides" that allows parents and teachers to set the various activities on easy, medium, or difficult levels. It can also be set to remember where a child left off so that the program will not go all the way back to the easiest level the next time it is used.

Some programs allow you to modify the presentation to meet your child's needs. For example, in the Living Books series, a simple click of the mouse changes all of the text, spoken instructions, and reading from English to Spanish, a fantastic feature for children from Spanish-speaking families. (Some titles offer Japanese, French, or German translations.) You can instruct the programs from Laureate Learning Systems, Inc., to provide visual prompts for the child, and you can change the size and image of the cursor, and specify how long the program will wait for an answer.

If your child is easily overstimulated or distracted by auditory stimuli, look for programs that allow you to adjust the volume of sound and music, or you can turn it off completely.

The most flexible programs also offer the option to specify which skills will be taught. A to Zap!, for example, allows you to specify whether the alphabet letters will be presented in upper or lower case.

What is your child interested in? Providing a child with choices and opportunities he or she likes is a basic tenet of child development. Interactive storybooks are a great choice for kids who like listening to stories. Reader Rabbit[R] Toddler may be a good place to start if your child likes to sing songs. Franklin's Activity Center[TM] appeals to children who love animals. If your child has a physical disability that limits block play, perhaps Blocks in Motion will interest him/her.

Is the program easy to use? There are so many good programs available that you should not struggle with those that are cumbersome to learn or tricky to use. Documentation should be clear and easy to follow. It should not take an inordinate amount of time for either you or your child to learn how to use the program. Different titles in a series (such as the Living Books and Reader Rabbit) follow the same structure so that once you have mastered how to use one program in the series, you will find the other titles very easy to learn.

How will your child access the program? If your child has a physical disability or an attention problem that interferes with mouse use, you should explore alternative access devices. The alternatives include:

* Trackballs such as the Penny and Giles Rollerball[TM] (Don Johnston Incorporated and SEMERC).

* Touch screen such as the TouchWindow[TM] (Edmark).

* Expanded keyboards such as IntelliKeys[R] (IntelliTools[R]) or Discover: Board[R] (Don Johnston Incorporated).

The TouchWindow, which attaches to the front of the computer monitor and is activated by a light finger touch, can serve as a point-and-click device just like a mouse. Users of IntelliKeys and Discover:Board can buy custom set-ups (software with paper overlays) for some software.
Cause and Effect Software

101 Animations[R] 6 to 8 months
Cooper & Associates (800)-RJCOOPER
$99.00 - Mac/Windows

Touch Games 6 months to 2 years
SEMERC (800) 462-0930
$59.95 - Mac/Windows

Old MacDonald's Farm 6 months to 3 years
SoftTouch (805) 396-8676
$75.00 - Mac/Windows

Reader Rabbit Toddler 18 months to 3 years
The Learning Company[R] (800) 716-8506
$19.95 - Mac/Windows


Kaleidoscope 2 years to 8 years
SEMERC (800) 462-0930
$69.95 - Windows

Kid Pix Studio Deluxe[R] 3 years to 8 years
Broderbund Software, Inc. (800) 779-6000
$29.25 - Mac/Windows

IntelliTools Coloring Books 2 years to 5 years
IntelliTools (800) 899-6687
$49.95 - Mac

Blocks in Motion 3 years to 8 years
Don Johnston Incorporated (800) 999-4660
$79.00 - Mac

Thinking Things 4 years to 8 years
Edmark (800) 691-2986
$59.95 - Mac/Windows

Early Literacy

Circletime Tales[R] Deluxe
$59.00 - Mac/Windows
 6 to 24 months
 (800) 999-4660
Storytime Tales[R]
$65.00 - Mac
Don Johnston Incorporated

Living Books 2 to 8 years
Broderbund Software, Inc. (800) 779-6000
$21.95 - $41.00

Disney Animated 2 to 8 years
Storybook Series (800) 328-0368
Disney Interactive
$34.95 - Mac/Windows

Magic Tales Collection 1 or 2 2 to 8 years
Knowledge Adventure (800) 542-4240
$56.95 each - Mac/Windows

Exploring First Words and 9 to 24 months
Exploring First Words II (800) 562-6801
Laureate Learning Systems, Inc.
$135.00 each - Mac/Windows

Bosie's Walk 2 to 8 years
Sign Enhancers, Inc. (800) 767-4461
$49.95 - Mac/Windows

Pre-Academic Software

Millie's Math House 3 years to 8 years
Edmark (800) 691-2986
$20.95 - Mac/Windows

Bailey's Book House 3 years to 8 years
Edmark (800) 691-2986
$20.95 - Mac/Windows

A to Zap! 3 years to 8 years
Sunburst Communications (800) 431-1934
$59.95 - Mac/Windows

Franklin's Activity Center 3 years to 8 years
Theatrix[TM] (800) 795-8749
$29.95 - Mac/Windows

Emergent Writing

Sunbuddy Writer[TM] 3 years to 8 years
Sunburst (800) 431-1934
$79.95 - Mac/Windows

Stanley's Sticker Stories[TM] 3 to 8 years
Edmark (800) 691-2986
$59.95 - Mac/Windows


Cause and Effect Software

101 Animations[R] Engaging animations that encourage
Cooper & Associates visual tracting and teach cause
$99.00 - Mac/Windows and effect. Can be used with
 a switch, touch screen,
 or by pressing
 the space bar on the keyboard.

Touch Games Great for visual attention.
SEMERC Teaches child to touch a
$59.95 - Mac/Windows specific spot
 on the screen. Offers
 a variety of activities that
 develop cause
 and effect, visuals discrimination
 and matching and mouse skills.

Old MacDonald's Farm Fantastic program for kids
SoftTouch motivated by music. A variety
$75.00 - Mac/Windows of activities teach object
 permanence, cause and
 effect, matching,
 sequencing, visual and auditory
 discrimination, and visual
 tracking while reinforcing
 memory and problem solving skills.
 Can be used with mouse, touch
 screen, single switch, IntelliKeys,
 or Discover:Board

Reader Rabbit Toddler Enjoyable cause and effect
The Learning Company[R] activities that encourage
$19.95 - Mac/Windows visual tracking.
 Items are activated by mouse
 movement rather than clicking.
 Can be personalized so child's
 name shows up in game graphics
 and printouts.


Kaleidoscope Drawing program that allows
SEMERC you to customize the palette, line
$69.95 - Windows thickness, etc. Fun for kids
 with physical disabilities.
 Easily customized.

Kid Pix Studio Deluxe[R] Electronic art kit for
Broderbund Software, Inc. child creativity and designing
$29.25 - Mac/Windows simple learning activities.
 Can be used to teach cause
 and effect. Reads typed
 words aloud in English and
 Spanish. Can import graphic
 files in several common formats.

IntelliTools Coloring Books Coloring program that allows
IntelliTools you to customize the color palette.
$49.95 - Mac Comes with overlays for IntelliKeys.
 Interface can be customized.
 Picture outlines and features are
 uncomplicated for ease of use by
 children with disabilities.

Blocks in Motion Very unusual and appropriate virtual
Don Johnston Incorporated blocks for kids who cannot
$79.00 - Mac physically manipulate real blocks.
 Also has painting and animation
 tools with intuitive interface.

Thinking Things Terrific activities that
Edmark encourage critical thinking
$59.95 - Mac/Windows and creativity. It also
 strengthens observation and
 memory while improving
 problem solving.

Early Literacy

Circletime Tales[R] Deluxe Very simple storybooks
$59.00 - Mac/Windows with repetitive verses
 that appeal to very
 young children. Can be
 used with touch window
Storytime Tales[R] or single switch.
$65.00 - Mac
Don Johnston Incorporated

Living Books Stories filled with familiar
Broderbund Software, Inc. characteristics like
$21.95 - $41.00 Arthur and Little
Mac/Windows Critter. IntelliTools publishes
 companion Easy Access Setups that
 provide overlays for
 IntelliKeys. Has
 setups for some of the books in
 Discover for single-switch use.

Disney Animated Lots of familiar characters
Storybook Series like Winnie the Pooh.
Disney Interactive Works well with
$34.95 - Mac/Windows a touch window.
 Single-switch access
 can be provided with ClickIt![R]
 (Mac only) or Discover

Magic Tales Collection 1 or 2 Beautiful interactive folk tales.
Knowledge Adventure
$56.95 each - Mac/Windows

Exploring First Words and A simple vocabulary program
Exploring First Words II that provides multiple access
Laureate Learning Systems, methods.
Inc. $135.00
each - Mac/Windows

Bosie's Walk Developed by the Texas School
Sign Enhancers, Inc. for the Deaf. Program includes
$49.95 - Mac/Windows sign language feature.

Pre-Academic Software

Millie's Math House
Edmark Great early math and ready programs
$20.95 - Mac/Windows that can be made accessible
 to Discover: Switch and
Bailey's Book House IntelliKeys users
Edmark with Easy Access Overlays
$20.95 - Mac/Windows (IntelliTools).

A to Zap! 26 fun activities, one for each
Sunburst Communications letter of the alphabet.
$59.95 - Mac/Windows Introduces letters and sounds
 in easy-to-use format. Includes
 activities in several content
 areas, including math, science
 and music.

Franklin's Activity Center Franklin, a familiar friend,
Theatrix[TM] leads a variety of great
$29.95 - Mac/Windows activities, including
 mazes, puzzles, dress up, matching
 games, board games, arcade games, a
 greeting card maker, paint
 by number, and a coloring book.

Emergent Writing

Sunbuddy Writer[TM] Allows the user to choose words by
Sunburst or text. Pictures can be included
$79.95 - Mac/Windows in the body of the story.

Stanley's Sticker Stories[TM] Creative writing for very
Edmark young children. Very easy
$59.95 - Mac/Windows to use.

RELATED ARTICLE: Computer Resources for Teachers & Parents of Young Children


Alliance for Technology Access A network of communiy-based resource centers that provide information and services to people with disabilities. (415) 455-4575

National Association for the Education of Young Children (800) 424-2460

National Center to Improve Practice in Special Education Through Technology, Media & Materials (NCIP) (617) 969-7100 ext. 2422


Children's Software Revue Bi-monthly newsletter. (800) 993-9499

Computer Learning (650) 327-3347

Educational Resources Discount educational software catalog. (800) 624-2926

PEPsite: Parents - Educators - Publishers Web site that provides information on software titles, publishers, reviews, and awards.


Computer Resources for People With Disabilities: A Guide to Exploring Today's Assistive Technology. Wright, JL and Shade, DD (eds). Hunter House, Inc. (Alameda, CA) 1996. Available from the Alliance for Technology Access.

Young Children: Active Learners in a Technological Age National Association for the Education of Young Children (Washington, DC). 1994. Available through the National Association far the Education of Young Children.

RELATED ARTICLE: Interactive Storybook Series

Interactive Storybooks


* Just Grandma and Me[TM]

* Arthur's Teacher Trouble

* Harry and the Haunted House

* Green Eggs and Ham

* The Tortoise and the Hare

* Arthur's Birthday

* The Berenstein Bears Get in a Fight

* Dr. Seuss's ABC

* The Cat in the Hat

* Sheila Rae the Brave

* Stellaluna

* The Berenstein Bears in the Dark


* Hercules

* 101 Dalmations

* Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree

* Little Monster at School

* Toy Story

* Pocahontas

* Lion King

Knowledge Adventure

* Baba Yaga and the Magic Geese[TM] (Russian Tale)

* Imo and the King[TM] (African tale)

* The Little Samurai[TM] (Japanese tale)

* Sleeping Cub's Test of Courage[TM] (Native American Tale)

* Liam Finds a Story[TM] (Irish tale)

* The Princess and the Crab[TM] (Italian tale)

Technology Advisory Board

Karen Shaw Weber, Editor

Amy G. Dell, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Dept. of Special Education The College of New Jersey, Ewing, NJ

Deborah Newton, M.Ed. Assistive Technology Specialist The Center for Enabling Technology, Whippany, NJ

Tom Caine Lisa DeMarco ProMedia, Inc, Clifton, NJ.

Leonard Margolis, M.A., Assistant Superintendent Bergen County Special Services School District, Paramus, NJ

Cathy Tamburello Adaptive Technology Specialist Bergen County Special Services School District, Paramus, NJ

Karen Warner Director, ETTC-Middlesex East Brunswick Public Schools, East Brunswick, NJ
COPYRIGHT 1998 EP Global Communications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Dell, Amy G.; Newton, Deborah
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Nov 1, 1998
Previous Article:Navigating the Process: Educational Tech Points for Parents.
Next Article:Getting the Most Out of Technology in the Classroom.

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