"Talking" Once upon a Time ... Volume III: Journey Through Time. (computer program) (Evaluation)
by Alan R. Bechtold
My nine-year-old daughter used Once upon a Time to write a book. What she didn't know was how much spelling, grammar, and linear logic she was learning in the process. Once upon a Time combines word-processing and drawing software in a unique educational experience that kids will think is nothing but fun. Volume III of Once upon a Time lets kids actually create books set in medieval times, in the Wild West, or in outer space--all on the PC. Volume I offers Farm Life, Down Main Street, and On Safari scenarios. The variety of stories and pictures that kids can actually create within each scenario is almost entirely up to them.
Referring to Once upon a Time as a drawing program is misleading. The child doesn't actually draw anything on the screen. Instead, he or she selects an appropriate background (four per scenario including a blank) and then places any number of picture elements, selected from an on screen list, anywhere on that background. The upper two-thirds of the screen is the child's selected background. The bottom third offers a list of commands that can be selected by simply moving a highlight bar. Backgrounds can be switched, for example, by simply highlighting the Background command and hitting the Return key. The Draw option allows the child to place a picture element directly on the background he or she has selected. The F1 key displays a list of all available picture elements for the selected scenario. In a flash of brilliance, the creators of Once upon a Time have set things up so that the child types in the name of each selected picture element before it will appear on the background. The child thus reads the list and learns the words. Each of the three scenarios allows selection from roughly two dozen different picture elements. In the Medieval Times scenario, for example, the child can put wizards, horse, knights, tables, and much more on backgrounds illustrating a castle's interior, hills and a distant village, or a blank or black screen. Using the computer's arrow keys, a child can place each selected element anywhere on a background. Highlighting the appropriate command at the bottom of the screen and typing in the element's name allows your child to flip, delete, or move elements.
Most amazing, however, is the program's ability to actually speak the name of each picture element, crisply and clearly, through the computer's existing speaker. The child simply highlights a picture element on the on screen list and then hits F2, and its name is spoken. This, of course, makes Once upon a Time an even better reading and spelling aid than it might have otherwise been. It's certainly convenient, too, since you don't need any additional hardware or software to perform this nearly miraculous feat.
When I said my daughter wrote a book, I wasn't kidding. Once upon a Time also has some attractive word-processing capabilities. They will at first seem limited, but this is a program for children ages 7-12. Kids that age don't want or need comprehensive features such as block move or search-and-replace. They just want to write, and Once upon a Time lets them do just that.
No, my daughter didn't sell her book to a major publisher and make enough money to buy me a new car, but she was happy and busy for hours, writing her story and creating pictures to go with it, then coloring the final printed results. She learned a lot of new words and organizational skills in the process. Now she's bugging me to get off the computer and let her start on her next creation, and she hasn't caught on that she's learning while she creates. That's why I think Once upon a Time is one of the best examples of quality educational software that I've seen in a long time.