Reader Rabbit 2. (evaluation)
by Heidi E.H. Aycock
Only a few years old and, already, Reader Rabbit has gotten a face-lift. Kids are growing up so fast these days.
Seems like only yesterday Reader Rabbit was a cleverly designed program with engaging, but not spectacular, graphics. Now, Reader Rabbit 2 features more than solid educational programming with impressive pictures. This newest addition to the Reader Rabbit series sparkles with the kind of graphics usually reserved for entertainment software. For people with sound cards in their PCs, this new program also brings great music and sound effects to the arena of children's software.
But what's more important? Graphics or educational value? To the Learning Company, responsible for grooming Master Rabbit, education comes first. Reader Rabbit 2 helps children between five and eight years old hone their reading skills. Following the young rabbit through four fun sections of Worldville, children improve their understanding of spelling, phonics, vocabulary, and sequencing.
To begin, hop on the crosstown train and head for the Word Mine, where you search for special crystals. The crystals display word or letter combinations, and the mining car holds another word or letter combination. As with all of the sections, four levels of difficulty challenge you. First you create compound words by matching a picture and half the word on the mining car with a word on one of the crystals. On the second level, you select the three-letter crystals that complete words started by the two-letter consonant blend on the mine car. On the third level, reverse the skill you practiced on the second level; the three-letter crystals begin words ended by the two-letter blend on the mining car. On level 4, type the appropriate words or letter combinations with no cues from the game. Whether the car holds a compound word or a two-letter blend, this level is very challenging.
The Word Mine flexes at least two reading muscles. As you build words, you expand your vocabulary. Like a game of Scrabble, Reader Rabbit 2 may send you scrambling for the dictionary. As you work with blends and letter combinations, you develop a stronger friendship with phonics, too.
To try a new section of Reader Rabbit 2, just hit the Escape key or click on the train icon, and you're off to the station. At the station, you can choose one of the other exercises.
Vowel Pond, second in the list of choices, tests your understanding of vowel sounds.
At the pond, you find Reader Rabbit casting off from a dock, his net and bucket poised for catching fish. When he finds a good spot, our angling hero waits for the fish to swim out of a nearby log. Each fish has a sword emblazoned on its scales.
On the easiest level, you catch fish which match the short vowel sound shown at the top of the screen. With a stroke of the Return key, Reader Rabbit dips his net into the water and scoops up the fish. Sometimes the vowel sounds are represented by the same letter combinations--cup matches sun, for example. Sometimes the matches are tougher, complicated by different letter combinations--leg matches bread, for example.
Vowel Pond's second level tosses long vowel sounds into the water. Besides being a new concept, long vowel sounds can be made up with even more letter combinations than short vowel sounds--lane, for example, matches with train and day, as well as vane. The third level mixes short and long vowel sounds. By the time you reach the fourth level, Master Rabbit has two pails, one for the short sound of a vowel and one for the long sound. You not only match sounds but also pick which pail should hold each fish that swims by. Fishing is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, but Reader Rabbit 2 has two more fun exercises. Flag down the Worldville Train and explore the other areas.
In Match Patch, you play that old standby, concentration, but the matches are much more challenging. The carrots in this garden are labeled with words. In the first level, you match carrots that rhyme. These rhymes are usually represented by similar spellings. On the second level, you match words that sound the same but are spelled differently. Take this opportunity to talk about what these words mean, and you'll add vocabulary skills to this execercise. You can also use this technique on the third level. These carrots are labeled with opposites. The fourth level plants more difficult rhymes in the soil--night rhymes with bite, for example.
Finally, Alphabet Dance works on sequencing skills. The screen shows four animals tapping their toes. The animals' interesting names--like Cecil and Quala--are printed with the waiting figures. You put the names in alphabetical order so the critters can cut the rug. On the first level, these names are just one letter apart from each other--Albert, Ben, Cami, and David, for example. On the second level, the names are more spread out in the alphabet--David, Mary, Robert, and Yul, for example. On the third level and fourth levels, some names start with the same letter, so you have to sort them by the first and second letters.
With these four exercises, the Learning Company has, once again, released an excellent educational package. Reader Rabbit 2 is packed with good lessons and valuable practice. Best of all, this program is not simply an electronic workbook. With its animation and sound, Reader Rabbit 2 takes full advantage of computer technology. If you've seen the first Reader Rabbit, you may be surprised by the description of Reader Rabbit 2. Sure, the first program had nice graphics, but they were blocky, simplistic, and nothing overwhelming. This new program is truly exceptional in comparison to what you may have seen in other educational packages.
Each section of Worldville is populated by adorable creatures and interesting visual effects. In the Word Mine, shimmering sparkles highlight the crystal that has been selected. In Vowel Pond, humorous cartoon fish frolic and make faces in Reader Rabbit's bucket. If our heroic hare catches the wrong fish, the scaly scoundrel scowls at the rabbit and leaps back into the water. The Match Patch grows vibrant orange carrots, at least as big as the gophers that push them out of the ground. The poor gophers strain and puff under the weight of these vegetables. Finally, the Alphabet Dance features several different characters who tap their toes and clap their hands to the music. In VGA, the game's images seem to jump out of the screen because their colors are so rich. Added depth to the images lends a three-dimensional quality.
Excellent sound accompanies the sharp graphics. The different themes bounces as energetically as the game itself. Your children will especially appreciate the seven different songs that play during the Alphabet Dance. You'll need a sound card to enjoy the music to its fullest, but the effect that great music can have on youthful learners can't be discounted. Boredom with an oft-repeated game sequence can be averted from many days by simply piping in harmonies. Here's another reason to buy that sound card you've always wanted; your kid's education just might stand to benefit from that purchase.
What you'll see when you boot up Reader Rabbit 2 is an education program that has been through a cosmetic overhaul. Now learning can be as visually and aurally stunning as the slickest videogame.