Teachers Identify Important Characteristics of Children's Software

by Letha Clark

For the past year, Macomb Projects staff members have conducted the "Software Olympics," an informal software evaluation with teachers and parents at Early Childhood and technology conferences and workshops. Parents, classroom teachers, and other adults, when given the rare opportunity to compare software programs, seem to agree on "best" titles for young children. During the Software Olympics, participants viewed or compared two software titles. The titles had similar themes, such as drawing, story building, fables, music, math concepts, and animation.

During the comparison, participants created their own handout, writing favorable and unfavorable comments about each title as it was presented. The presenters made objective comments about the software, not including their personal evaluation of the software in the presentation. Questions about the titles were fielded during the presentation, insuring that the audience had as much information as possible before forming an opinion. The participants were then asked to "vote" on the title that they thought had the most appeal for young children. Following the outcome, the participants shared the reasons why one title was selected over the other. And the presenters, if asked, added their impressions of each program.

It is no surprise that the reasons given to support their choices are very similar. Flash and dazzle isn't what appealed to the individuals in the sessions. They were impressed with programs that looked easy for children to use. They wanted titles that allowed children the opportunity to explore and create.

In every session, Kid Pix was the overwhelming favorite when compared to another drawing and slide show program. The other program had similar options, but rather than being arranged in icon based menus, the options were chosen from an artistıs studio.

Storybook Weaver Deluxe was chosen because of its variety of characters, the ease with which they could be added, and the simplicity of the method for adding text. When they compared titles that incorporated music, Gus and the Cyberbuds, Sing, Play & Paint-A-Long was the choice by a narrow margin. The deciding factor for participants was that it simply seemed easier to use. Adding music was a one step process and they liked that.

Most people who work with young children recognize that children like things that move. A comparison of titles that make animation easy for young children resulted in the selection Amazing Animation because the animation was easy to produce and the decision making process is uncomplicated and easy for even a young child.

Millie's Math House was the "hands down favorite" in the math category. Adults were impressed that it presented a variety of math concepts in a fun, non-threatening fashion. They could see children exploring on their own, especially since there were no right or wrong answers. They appreciated the potential for many related activities away from the computer.

The two fables presented had few differences. Both titles compared were interactive books and had a number of hot spots on each "page" that contributed to the story being told. The wait time between pages seemed to be a deciding factor for some and for others the option for languages other than English for print and narration was important. As it turned out, the adults preferred The Tortoise and the Hare.

Repeatedly, the adults indicated they wanted features in software for young children such as ease of use, screens that show a "room" containing options rather than a tidy menu that might require reading skills, scenes that were appealing to the eye, activities that were challenging without being overwhelming, and opportunities for children to explore and create on their own.

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