By Diane S. Kendall
School's starting and while kids love seeing their friends and teachers again, getting back into the groove can be a little stressful. Hula Hamsters, a new software title for kids ages 3-to-8, might just be the antidote. It's one of those rare pieces of software that both kids and adults can laugh at and enjoy together. It's educational, but not in a "learn this or else" kind of way. It's retro look may be 1960's, but it's ingenuity is reminiscent of the wide open approach to children's software that has often been missing in releases since the late 90's when kid's software was in its heyday.
Frankie and Bean are the hula hopping hamsters that serve as the hosts for this romp around a kid's room that serves up a variety of fun games. Cunningly this room is from the 1960s rather than the present so all the digital trappings are missing. Instead books, toys, posters, games and even gadgets, like a microscope and a telescope, serve as the portals to the activities.
Some objects lead you to just the kinds of activities you think they'll be - like a board game on the floor transforming into a memory game. But click on the microscope and Mini Moeba's quiz game offers up close views of household objects asking kids in a multiple choice format to guess what they are looking at. The telescope transports kids to the Miss Galaxy Talent Show where the planets show off their unique qualities.
One of my favorite activities, perhaps the ultimate in "manipulatives" (as they say in "teacher-eze"), is a math activity called Velly Balls. Kids electronically throw three balls onto a target with circles representing different number and then add up the values. Also very cool is an interactive comic book called Hula Hamster Heroes where Frankie and Bean get to show what they are made of. Another book that can be fooled with is Gravity Takes A Holiday. It chronicles the life and times of overworked and under appreciated Gravity and just happens when his Guardian Angel shows him what life will be like if he takes a vacation. Of course the results are just hilarious and kids get to play with the scenes after listening and watching the tale unfold.
What makes this software even more remarkable is that it is from a small shop called 3A Studios of Romeoville, IL. It is their first release but the adults and children around our shop are hoping for many more. We haven't had such a good time looking at a piece of software in a month of Sundays.
Reviewer's Note : Because 3A Studios is so small this software may not be available from your usual supplier. Try a site like http://www.smartkidssoftware.com or the zshops of http://www.amazon.com
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