I remember seeing an Apple computer demo in high school. Even back then, I was fascinated by the enormous potential of this multimedia tool of the future. My very first computer was a Commodore 64, followed by an Amiga, and at that time I thought the games we had on floppy disk were cool! Years later, we purchased a PC with a CD-ROM drive. I was so impressed with the first CD-ROM program we purchased for our oldest son, that I decided to equip our family with an extensive software collection. We ended up with about 150 different titles.
As a homeschool parent, I've been mainly interested in software that is educational as well as fun. While discovering a lot of excellent software, I also found many mediocre programs and some that were not good at all. After a decade of choosing and using software for all different age levels, I feel that I've weeded out the worst and kept the best. Despite all of the new titles that come out every year, most of my favorites are still the tried-and-true ones which have been used by all three of our children.
Computers can open up a world of learning possibilities. Educational games aren't just for school. If kids are going to spend a lot of time playing something, they might as well learn something from it. Arcade games are a pleasant diversion, but it's important to maintain a balance between these and more useful computer programs. The most rewarding software will combine high quality educational content with enjoyable activities.
Our two younger boys, eager to do what their older brother was doing on the computer, had each learned to manipulate a computer mouse when they were two years old. They needed something for their age level, though, which is when the baby and toddler software came in handy. These entertaining developmental programs give young children a head start by familiarizing them with computers and letting them practice using the keyboard.
Computer programs appeal to all learning styles: visual, auditory, and hands-on. Computer software can also motivate reluctant learners, encourage creativity, improve logical thinking, and enhance problem-solving skills. Educational software expands learning opportunities by allowing children to explore different areas of interest and experience things they normally wouldn't be able to. As a result, computers encourage independence while building self-confidence.
Another advantage of computer software is that it is compact, easy to store, and doesn't add to household clutter. With computerized versions of classic board games and jigsaw puzzles, you don't have to worry about losing pieces or picking up and putting everything away when you're done. If there is a young artist in the house, he or she won't make any messes while using a digitized paint program or creativity studio.
Computers can be a valuable learning tool and an effective educational resource, as long as the software is high quality, the child is monitored, and time limits are in place. Families should try to build a balanced collection of software that includes creative applications, reference tools, homework help, basic skills drills, adventure programs, simulations, games, writing and publishing programs.
Keep in mind, however, that the computer should supplement rather than substitute for other activities. Children still need to read books, participate in real-life projects, personally interact with others, and engage in some good old-fashioned "make-believe." This means plenty of time away from computers, video games, television, and other high-tech gadgets. The key is to provide children with developmentally appropriate software and then reinforce the software with concrete activities.
Software Shopping Tips
Factors to consider when buying computer software include: ease of use, quality of presentation and design, educational value, high level of interactivity, appealing music and graphics, good characters, age-appropriateness, and game play that is challenging but not frustrating. Don't feel that you have to follow the age labels, though, because these can be misleading depending on your child's intellectual development, abilities and interests. Software with adjustable skill levels is good for families with children of differing abilities. This also means that a child won't outgrow it as quickly because once they've mastered one level they can move up to the next. Of course, always check the system requirements to make sure the software will run on your computer.
Computer software may be packaged in large colorful boxes or plastic jewel cases. While current releases are generally sold in an eye-catching box and older versions come in a jewel case, this isn't always the case. A few companies bypass the boxes altogether and their programs are only available in jewel cases. Be aware that some software manufacturers are notorious for taking previously released programs and repackaging them with little or no revisions, often under another name, to make them seem like new. This can be confusing for the consumer who is expecting something different. Another tactic is to take the original version of a program (with its older style graphics) and label it "Classic." On the other hand, "Deluxe" editions have been updated, expanded, and improved.
http://www.knowledgehouse.info/favorite-computer-games.html - A list of our family's favorite computer games, from amazingly educational to pure clean fun.
http://www.knowledgehouse.info/njfkgamereviews.html - My Top 10 favorites reviewed in more detail.
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