Some of our Favorite Software

February 18, 1995. It was two days after Michael's birthday. We had just finished helping him spend his birthday money at a toy store. Across the street was a Best Buy. I had no idea what Best Buy was, but I saw they were advertising appliances so I asked Rich to stop in there. I told him I wanted to look for a crockpot. Three hours later we left with a computer! Talk about impulse buying!

What changes have taken place in our lives since we've purchased this computer! Our homeschooling has been greatly enhanced, we've made the most wonderful friends over the internet, and we've started a little home-based business which we conduct on-line.

I must admit though, I quickly became a software addict! The computer had a considerable amount of software pre-loaded into it, but I still purchased approximately six programs when we bought the computer. I devoured software reviews in magazines, ordering the ones which looked most beneficial for us. I'm actually ashamed to admit how much software we had at one time. :-)

But we have whittled it all down, and here are some of the programs which continue to be our favorites:

The Oregon Trail II (MECC) - This is one of the programs we purchased at the same time as our computer. Michael and I still love the challenge of getting to the end of the trail. The photos of the land around the trail have really sparked an interest for Michael in the Oregon Trail and the West, and we have read many books from this time period. Something to think about when you play the game - Michael no longer uses names of family and friends to travel the trail with him. It was very disturbing for him to have mom or dad, or a close friend, die during the game - especially when he was trying to save them with the medication he brought along. I must admit, the first time this happened to me, it was oddly disturbing. I do like it that you really have to think through many of your decisions. I made the mistake once of selling my draft animals - I thought I could simply raft the Columbia River to the end. I didn't know we would have more land areas to travel. Well, we couldn't move from the spot we were in without the animals, and no one would help us! We were so close to our destination, but we all starved to death!! Yikes!! Thankfully, every game is not like this! Even the relatives like to play The Oregon Trail II when they come to visit.

Crosscountry USA (Didatech Software) - This program has really fit well into our geography unit this year. We're traveling the states "in our car," and this is another way to get around the country. You start the game in the cab of your 18-wheeler. Don't forget to lock your doors and fasten your seat belt! You have been given a starting location (such as Boise, Idaho) and a destination (such as Burlington, Vermont). You have to load commodities and deliver some of them on your way to Vermont. Maybe you have to pick up some corn to deliver to Cleveland, Ohio. Should you get your corn in DesMoines, IA, North Platte, NE, or Peoria, IL? You have a large map in front of you (hands-on, on your table) with travel routes outlined. You check all three locations to determine which city would be most economical for you to stop and load the corn. While traveling, you have to take time to sleep, eat, fill up with gas! Players learn: Facts about the USA ranging from weather to terrain to cultural differences, basic map reading and map interpretation skills, budgeting problems, time and distance factors, gas mileage calculations and problem solving. It's not a glitzy, flashy program - but it is definitely an effective learning program and we like it a lot!

Edmark's New Mighty Math Series - We have owned a load of math software. We like the math software put out by The Learning Company, Davidson's The Cruncher, that silly Math Heads, and we love Zoombinis! But at present, I continue to highly recommend Edmark's new Mighty Math series. The titles we have are Mighty Math Number Heroes, Mighty Math Calculating Crew, and Mighty Math Cosmic Geometry. I am eagerly awaiting the Mighty Math Astro Algebra which is "coming soon." (There are also two titles for younger children - Mighty Math Carnival Countdown and Mighty Math Zoo Zillions.) The graphics are beautiful, the activities are effective, and the programs are fun! They are not an on-going game type of program, but Michael has enjoyed the activities very much. Some of the activities can be played by two players and I join in with him. The entire series is designed to take children from kindergarten through the ninth grade. Number Heroes and Calculating Crew cover all the major topics in the third, fourth, and fifth grade math curricula. Cosmic Geometry and Astro Algebra cover major topics in seventh, eighth, and ninth grade curricula. We love shooting fireworks as fractions, playing the Quizzo game, spending money at the Superhero's Superstore, driving our submarines along an underwater number line. The geometric activities are done very well. There are built-in calculators, you can set the level of difficulty, or set the level to simply explore the activity! We've had math software that simply drilled facts. We've had math software that was more game than math. We've had math software that was downright boring! But we are very pleased with Mighty Math. I always ask Michael to do some of each activity when we do a program. He never complains! Check this series out!

Music Ace (Harmonic Vision) - This is an exceptionally nice program for teaching the fundamentals of music from introduction to the staff through introduction to key signatures and major scales. There are colorful animated music notes, a friendly Maestro, and musical games. Not only has this program been very effective in helping Michael learn music, he has thoroughly enjoyed playing with the Doodle Pad and making up his own songs! The link will take you to Harmonic Vision's homepage where you can see more in-depth information about this program. We recommend Music Ace!

The Lost Mind of Dr. Brain - We've played all the Dr. Brain games except the new Time Warp of Dr. Brain. I'm sure we will be adding it to our collection at some time. The Lost Mind of Dr. Brain is "based on the Theory of Multiple Intelligences developed by Dr. Howard Gardner, co-director of Project Zero and Professor of Education at Harvard University. So, it's not just fluff and fun. Players get to use verbal, linguistic, musical, logical, visual spatial skills, and more in a fun and fast-paced game." I took that snippet from a nice review of the game here. Michael has spent hours enjoying these puzzles. I was amazed to watch him listen to musical passages and then put the music in order! Putting items into filing cabinets and then remembering which drawer you put the "flight of fancy" into is too hard for me! (But that Michael - he's like an elephant and never forgets!) There is Motor Programming, a Neural Maze, the Train of Thought, Pentode, and more! 3-D Construction is my personal favorite. This is a very good program!

Mario Teaches Typing (Brainstorm) - We love Mario's antics. Michael has progressed very well with this program. We used another program for a short time, but Mario keeps Michael's attention and we like him just fine!

Spell It 3 (Davidson) - We've looked at several spelling programs and I must admit Michael hated this one when we first purchased it. But it was the first spelling program we had ever purchased. Because he balked at it, I tried some other spelling programs which he liked better, but they weren't effective. He wasn't learning anything. I saw that he would very quickly say the letters and then hurry to get them typed onto the screen before he forgot. Once they were placed on the screen ... he forgot! Michael is not a strong speller. However, this year, I re-loaded the Spell It 3 with surprising results. I could look at the program more objectively now that I had seen the other programs ... and so could Michael. The activities are far more conducive to long-term learning than the other programs we've tried. And Michael has pronounced this one to be "a lot of fun, Mom!" We give it a thumbs up!

Invention Studio (Discovery Channel) - This is another program that Michael has spent hours in front of . You can design, build, and test your own inventions. You can build a better mousetrap! The program also includes other inventive challenges. The link will show you screen shots and more information about the program. Michael especially likes working in the Garage where he builds vehicles - then test flights them (or test drives!). There is so much packed into this cd, I know we haven't seen the half of it yet!

All-In-One Language Fun (Syracuse Learning Systems) - I started Michael learning French in the third grade. When we purchased the computer, I purchased this software. The program has games in Spanish, French, German, Japanese, and English. The games are really cute! Michael was remembering the vocabulary and enjoying the program very much. (So was I!) However, the next school year we switched to Latin (not on this cd <g>). I decided to stop with French until we had two years of Latin completed. Our next school year we will continue with Latin as well as to start French again. Although we are not utilizing this cd at this time, I consider it to be one of our favorite programs and we are looking forward to getting back to it. Here is one thing we did while learning the vocabulary on the cd: One of our computer programs has a capture function whereby you can "capture" an entire screen shot - or simply a portion of it - and save it as a picture. For each set of pictures (such as the boy's clothing), I would capture the individual pictures (the sweater, the socks, the pants, etc.) right off the screen, save them into my personal file, and then transfer them to my desktop publisher. I would place all the pictures of a set onto one page, and then type the French word and the pronunciation of the word beneath each picture. This would then be printed, three-hole punched, and placed into a three-ring binder. This would enable us to continue to practice our vocabulary without having to launch the program every time we wanted to review. The link above will take you to a review of the program.

Opening Night (MECC) - There are several programs for writing your own stories and having them read back to you, but we absolutely love Opening Night! This program has actual stage settings, real-life characters, music, stage lights, props, and so much more! We have not only made silly plays (so, what else is new from this family!), but we have made some very nice serious plays as well. We have that silly Hollywood program, and we certainly have fun with that, but it's very difficult to put action to your more serious work when the characters are all cartoons. Opening Night does take a little time to learn. Well, it did for me - that Michael, he can click and test and try things and he has it all figured out pretty quick! But I had to read and struggle a little to get all my music, speech, and sound effects just right. We feel this is an ideal program for homeschoolers and budding playwrights! The link will take you to a nice review of the program which also shows some screen shots.

Kid's Studio and The Imaginator - These two programs are basically the same program. Kid's Studio came first, The Imaginator is the upgrade (yet has different pictures), and the newest program, which we don't have, and which combines ALL the features, is the Monstrous Media Kit. These programs are by CyberPuppy Software. The story of the history of these programs is told here. We have some very good programs, but I think we have enjoyed these programs the most! We write and illustrate stories in here. We write letters. We make presentations. There are treasure chests with loads of photographs, drawings and objects. There is a draw and paint program built in to put your own creations on your pages. We import sounds and photos from other programs or cds. It is incredibly versatile! We have homeschool friends who also have this program. We've made presentations and written letters to send back and forth via disks in the mail, DCC through mIRC, or simply by sending them as attachments through e-mail. Michael re-enacted and narrated the story of MacBeth with this program (Ronald Reagan was King Duncan and Richard Nixon played the part of Fleance, Banquo's son. It was all really quite humorous.) If you get this, let us know ... maybe we can share some creations!!

Theme Park (old review - we play Theme Park with Windows 95) - Michael loves to play sims. This is by far his most favorite sim. You buy your land, build your park (you can even ride some of the rides!), hire your staff, stock your supplies, and even play the stock market. Aren't children amazing? I try and I try, yet I cannot get a theme park going that is successful! Michael has happy customers, nice bathroom facilities, lovely landscaping ... and I am struggling with children crying and parent's not wanting to spend their money. Literally hours have been spent by Michael to become a Theme Park Tycoon! I think it is a very good program to nurture his entrepreneurial spirit. He really works hard to keep his business running properly!

We have more software! For me personally, I love my Family Album Creator. Each school year, I use this program to make books of Michael's dictation. I illustrate them with clip art, print them out, and then take them to our local copy shop to have them bound with those spiral combs (punch and bind machines). I love my Hallmark Card Studio and my American Greetings CreataCard Plus. I use them for much more than making cards (photographs look great in these programs). Both programs are made by Micrographix and are compatible. My Kai's Power Goo is a lot of fun. You can see some of my handiwork by looking at my dear husband on our home page <g>! We've used our Print Artist a great deal as well!

Want to know what I have my eye on now? I absolutely love the Junior Smart books put out by The Princeton Review. Look at this review of their new Algebra software. And I'm very tempted to get Dr. Sulfur's Night Lab by McGraw Hill. And I'm contemplating How Do You Spell Adventure? But for now, I will exercise some restraint!

Well, this has been our very unprofessional opinion on software. Hopefully you can check out some links and see if any of it would be interesting for your family!

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